Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cold War's Eastern European sensibility

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War (at The Maple Theater and WIFF’s monthly film screening Feb. 24), a nominee for Oscar best foreign language film, seems almost refreshing in two ways. First, it’s in black and white and in 1:33 screen ratio (squarish). And second, it’s a chronologically told story. So many films these days jump disjointedly from one period or scene to the next; they’re convoluted and not always easy to follow. I also, of course, loved that this picture is Eastern European, with that same Eastern sensibility that imbues so many of this region’s films, literature and art – a deep and dark almost poetic way of seeing the world. The film’s story is about a musical director Wiktor Warski (played by Tomasz Kot) and one of his discoveries, Zula (Joanna Kulig). The pair quickly fall in love. The film begins in 1949 in the obliterated cities of post-war Poland and during the post-Nazi rise of Communism. Zula is an exquisite folk singer with that “special something” that catches Wiktor's eyes and ears. But as Communism rears its totalitarian head, musicians are told they must inject more than a little social realism into their performances. After all, singing about “land reform” is just as romantic to the body politic as love, is it not? And stage backdrops of Stalin and Lenin are the cat’s meow to the associated masses. These state-ordered demands get on our musical couple’s nerves but only one, Wiktor, has the gumption or energy to escape, which he does by easily walking (this before the Berlin Wall was built) from East to West Berlin while the performers are in the German city. Years go by and he ends up a jazz musician in Paris. Zula finally rendezvous but she’s now committed to someone else. Their romantic flame hasn’t been doused, however. Wiktor returns to Poland and is arrested and sentenced to hard labor. There’s more to the story than this and love wins out in, shall we say, a melancholy (but very Eastern European) way. Great performances on both Kot and Kulig’s parts and kudos to Pawlikowski for his straight forward narrative. It’s possible Cold War could win this year’s best foreign flic at the Oscars, given the Academy may want to give a refreshing nod to a different part of the world, with Mexico’s Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) likely sweeping most other award categories.

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