Cold War (Zimna wojna) is an epic and tragic love story that begins in 1949 in Poland and ends in the 1960s. During those years the protagonists travel all around Europe.
In the beginning Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) search Poland for dancers and singers. They are putting together a performance troupe who will help lift up Poland after the war with traditional music and dance.
That’s how they find Zula (Joanna Kulig). She’s a teen with a wonderful singing voice and an electric aura that attracts everyone, especially Wiktor.
When Wiktor asks Zula if she really was in jail she says yes. She says her father “mistook her for her mother. She showed him the difference with a knife.”
They become lovers very quickly. The troupe performs under Wiktor’s direction. A Communist party official who managed the troupe named Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc) changed the purpose of the troupe from folk music and dance to patriotic communist propaganda.
Wiktor became dissatisfied. He begged Zula to escape into Germany and then France with him when they were performing in Berlin. She said yes, but stood him up.
Wiktor went to France alone and Zula continued to perform with the troupe.
Over the years, they found ways to be together. Once for a long period in Paris. Sometimes briefly around an appearance in a city outside Poland.
Much as they loved each other, they had problems. Zula began drinking too much. They did foolish things, harmful things. On the one hand, Cold War (Zimna wojna) is a brilliant love story for the ages. On the other hand, it’s a sad tale of frustration and disappointment. Part of that was the time and place the lovers were in. Part of it was their own personal issues and needs. They were part of a cold war in more than one way.
Don’t expect this film to be like an American romance. It’s very different from that.
Writer and director Pawel Pawlikowski shot the film in black and white. It is a perfect choice for this story. Individual frames are often stunningly beautiful, whether the story is in a light moment or a grim one. It gives the film an artistic look.
Music and dance were also a constant part of the film. Everything from Polish folk songs to jazz to pop tunes were part of the story of Zula and Wiktor.
Cold War (Zimna wojna) earned many nominations and awards – mostly for best foreign film or best director. I thought more of those nominations and awards should have gone to Joanna Kulig as best actress.
Joanna Kulig as Zula was luminous. Her performance took her from fresh-faced teen to a more worn-down and drunken 40s. She was outstanding at all of it. She made the film for me.
Cold War, in numerous languages – mostly Polish, is streaming on Amazon.