Movie Review: Cold War


By Alex Gehrlein ’19

Pawel Pawlikowski’s film is a very quick slow burn. It has all the hallmarks of a very slow, steady, simmering drama, but is packed into an unusually low runtime of only 89 minutes. This necessitates a very interesting style wherein every moment is essential to telling the story at its bare minimum, but is delivered through very minimal action. It’s told not in broad strokes, but little details that add up to an impressive whole.

Set primarily in Poland during World War II, Cold War follows the turbulent romance of Wicktor and Zula, a composer and performer working for the same theater company. Encompassing fifteen years of their involvement together, the film jumps from year to year without notice, giving us the most compact possible way to tell this story. The two leads are fantastic, with a magnetically charming performance from Joanna Kulig, and a cooly subdued turn from Tomasz Kot. Both express the characters’ emotions in very different ways, but seem to fit together perfectly. Without their chemistry, the film could easily fumble from lacking support.

The strangest, most touching detail of the film is that the story is based around Pawlikowski’s parents’ real life relationship. Certain events make it clear that the story is not a direct account, but the lead characters’ names and temperaments seem to have been pulled directly from the director’s life. This lends a very personal tone to the film, which only helps to bring us in on the romance.

The film is interesting in that it does so much within its runtime that it must be uniquely purposeful with its storytelling. It simply doesn’t give itself the time to go that far in depth, so personal touches and onscreen charisma go a long way in communicating what isn’t given time to develop of its own course.

My biggest problem with the film is that I feel it could have been served well by another fifteen to twenty minutes to get to know these characters. It is impressive how well their personalities are defined in the time we’re given with them, but more time could only help to bring us in closer. Certain gaps in the timeline left me wanting some sort of bridge to cross them, but Pawlikowski seems hellbent on fast tracking the film to its admittedly impactful conclusion. It should be taken as both a criticism and a complement to say that this film left me wanting to know so much more about its characters.