One of the most critical parts of a song is the arrangement. The structure or the chords can still be the same, but the context and the instrumentation provide just as much. Look at how the original arrangement of Bill Withers’ Lean on Me, a soulful piano-based classic, can be diluted and struck into Club Nouveau's trashy dance floor-ready remake. The way Cold War shows different arrangements of the same song at different parts of a relationship is one of my favorite things about this precise and vague masterpiece.
Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot in Cold War, photo by Lukasz Bak, courtesy of Amazon Studios
From the opening shot of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Oscar-nominated tour de force, there’s a direness that arises. The haunted eyes of a bagpipe player in Poland sets the tone, but we meet our two leads momentarily at an audition for a folk music school, where Zula (a magnificent Joanna Kulig) catches the eye of Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). But at any point after that, Cold War tells us that the details aren’t the important parts of this forbidden relationship. Pawlikowski shows us brief moments in this toxic connection over the course of decades, leaving us to draw that these two destructive and cruel people deserve each other. It feels like a 4-hour masterpiece with every huge scene cut out, leaving only the absolutely most plot-driven or human moments.
It helps that every scene here is drenched in stunning black and white, giving us one of the most scenic and beautiful films I’ve ever seen. At many points, especially the haunting final scene, I stopped and told myself that I may have never seen a better-looking movie. Thanks to Lukasz Zal’s cinematography, even the uncertain opening five minutes feel defined and precise. But you shouldn’t only give credit to Zal, as this is fully Pawlikowski’s film. It feels like every frame was expertly designed and imagined by Pawlikowski, not to mention how this is supposedly inspired by his parents.
Joanna Kulig in Cold War, photo by Lukasz Bak, courtesy of Amazon Studios
There’s never a moment that feels didactic or even dialogue-driven in the entire thing. Cold War just glides from scene to scene, basking in black and white beauty, and letting you absorb the entire thing. From the knockout performances to the barebones script that implies so much more than it says, Cold War is by far one of the most beautiful things to come out of 2018. It even feels like therapy for Pawlikowski, because doesn’t everyone hate when parents fight?
Buy/Stream Cold War & Pawlikowski’s other work