The mood in Cannes turns bittersweet with tales of lovers who can live neither apart nor together in Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War” and Christophe Honoré’s “Sorry Angel”.
Just four days into the 71st Cannes Film Festival and our red carpet photographer has already proclaimed this an off year – and you can’t really blame him. With Hollywood shunning the Croisette, the dearth of stardust on the famed crimson walkway is a problem for cinema’s most glamorous gathering. But the film critics, for once, aren’t complaining, because black-and-white movies from the east with low-profile actors suit them just fine. We’ve had two so far, both of them good. Who needs America anyway when the (former) Soviet bloc is going so strong?

After Kirill Serebrennikov’s rock-infused “Leto”, set in Leningrad, the focus moved to Poland with Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War”, a bittersweet tale of love thwarted by stubborn egos and iron curtains. It follows the Polish director’s acclaimed “Ida”, about the oddest of pairs (a novice nun and her hard-drinking aunt) making a road trip into the country’s darkest past. Like “Ida”, “Cold War” is superbly photographed in luminous monochrome. Once again, it takes an intimate path into period drama, weaving together the personal and the political.

Set in postwar Poland and Paris, the film reunites Pawlikowski with “Ida” star Agata Kulesza, who excelled as the worldly aunt in the Oscar-winning feature (though this time she is shunted out of the movie somewhat abruptly). Joanna Kulig, who also appeared in “Ida”, takes the lead role as Zula, a plucky and gorgeous young singer who has a passionate affair with pianist and composer Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). Their romance plays out in the increasingly stifling context of a Polish folk music ensemble that is pressured into serving the Soviet cause. Early on in the movie, Zula and Wiktor have an easy chance to defect while on a trip to Berlin, and their fateful decision will haunt their relationship till the end.

“Cold war” is a visually stunning film, driven by a beautiful musical score and neatly wrapped up in just 84 minutes. It is a chilling examination of state-sponsored repression and a melancholic meditation on the disappointment of love. Like “Ida”, it feels intensely personal (Pawlikowski has described his own experience of spending time in Paris as being a “lost guy in a weird city”). There isn’t a false note from the cast or an ugly frame in the entire film. But for all its formal beauty, “Cold War” left me cool, perhaps because the characters are neither endearing nor particularly interesting.

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