Skip to main content

Midvale Journal

Dan's Review: "Cold War" an Incredible, Tragic Love Story

Feb 01, 2019 11:40PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig in Cold War - © 2019 Amazon FIlms.

Cold War (Amazon Films)

Rated R for some sexual content, nudity, and language. 

Starring Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Jeanne Balibar, Cédric Kahn, Adam Woronowicz, Adam Ferenc. Adam Szyszkowski.

Written by Paweł Pawlikowski, Janusz Głowacki, and Piotr Borkowski.

Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski.



Years ago, I often considered most foreign films as generally pretentious, only suitable for viewing in arthouse cinema, frequented by beatniks and hipsters. Yes, there is a valid reason for the stereotype, since many of “those” films with subtitles contained more metaphor than narrative, but ever since I took on the challenge of being an actual film critic, viewing movies in a different tongue has become a habit, if only for awards consideration. It’s been an eye-opening experience, as I have discovered a treasure trove of movies that I would have otherwise never experienced. Yes, there are still a few of those “art” types to endure (or enjoy, depending on the content), but more often than not, I’ve realized that people from other countries and cultures are pretty much the same as us, with varying degrees of particular quirks. Some foreign films have become etched in my memory, and I’ve found myself viewing them again (on purpose!). One such film is Pawel Palikowski’s Cold War, a movie loosely based on his real-life parents during the rise of communism in mid-20th Century Poland.

Joanna Kulig stars as Lula, a teenaged singer/dancer, and member of a Communist state-run youth arts and cultural school. Her teacher and mentor is Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a composer and musical director drawn to her beauty and talent. The pair falls in love and they make plans to defect from the Eastern Bloc country as soon as they get to Berlin (before the wall). Wiktor waits for Lula at the checkpoint, but she never shows. He defects anyway, and makes his way to Paris, while she continues on with the cultural performance group, under the strict oversight of Lech (Borys Szyc), a man with ambition to rise in the Communist Party. Years pass and the lovers’ paths cross on various occasions, including a brief affair in Paris when Lula joins Wiktor in Paris, hoping to launch her singing career as a crossover jazz singer, performing Wiktor’s original compositions. Things never seem to work out between them, and their occasional moments of bliss are marred by Lula’s temperament, which is influenced by a combination of language barriers and a feeling that she belongs in her own country. Wiktor eventually follows Lula back across the Iron Curtain into Poland, where Lula is forced to marry Lech. Despite the arrangement, Wiktor and Lula can’t seem to avoid each other, even though their relationship seems doomed for a tragic end.

Cold War is an incredible film, with great music, impressive cinematography and outstanding performances from Kulig and Kot. Kulig’s smoky voice and distinctive looks are magnetic, as she transforms from an enigmatic teenager to a broken woman. Tomasz Kot is equally brilliant, providing depth and a sense of class you’d expect from any number of great American or British actors.

So, if you can get past your inhibitions over foreign films and disdain for reading subtitles, I strongly recommend that you see Cold War in a theater while you still can. There’s a good reason it was nominated for three Academy Awards (Cinematography and Director, not to mention Foreign Language Film). The Academy doesn’t always get things right, but in this case, they did.   

Cold War Trailer