Post-war romance Cold War glows with borderless passion

by James Robins / 08 January, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Cold War movie

In post-war Poland, a film-maker reimagines his parents finding romance among the ruins.

There is no more austere a setting for a film than post-war Poland. The country that suffered greatly last century lends itself to stark atmospheres. The scenery is already black and white, after all. But it’s from the ruins that Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski (Ida) conjures up a vibrant, tumultuous romance, an ode to his parents and their escape from Stalinism: love in the coldest climate.

In 1949, a handsome composer named Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) travels the countryside recording the folk songs of peasants, which range from tunes of lost love to ditties about the pub. As one character describes it, “The music of pain and humiliation. And joy, too, even if through tears.” Into his project walks Zula (Joanna Kulig), an almost ethereal beauty possessed of an exquisite voice. An affair blossoms instantly.

A travelling theatre show develops. The new Soviet authorities, of course, take note, turning it into a farce – a propaganda hour for ethnic chauvinism and the “World Proletariat”. It takes them to divided Berlin, and the possibility of escape. Wiktor goes, but Zula cannot.

What follows are fractured episodes of yearning and reconciliation. Snatched kisses and fights in the street. Paris. Belgrade. Back to Poland. Their ardour spans a soundtrack of rich orchestras and the electrifying first riffs of rock’n’roll, all told in gorgeous, pristine, stately monochrome cinematography.

Wiktor remains unchanged – just as adoring as when we found him – but it’s Zula who morphs from a coolly determined survivor into the most seductive and entrancing of chanteuses.

In reality, the story of Pawlikowski’s parents is more mundane and straightforward. But there is no sense of nostalgia in Cold War, no inkling that things have been remembered more fondly than they were. The spark and flash of their betrayals and separations have all been retained, reimagined through the director’s vision.

It’s a relationship with the barbed wire and high walls kept in. Through the black and white, against an iron sky, Cold War glows with borderless passion.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the January 12, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more
Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath of Big Tobacco
103798 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Profiles

Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath o…

by Joanna Wane

As the face of anti-smoking lobby group ASH, Deirdre Kent played a vital role in the smokefree New Zealand movement.

Read more
Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ
103766 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Currently

Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ…

by Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Māori leaders are calling on New Zealanders to reject the notion that 'this is not us' in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Read more
Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes martenot
103723 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Music

Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes…

by Elizabeth Kerr

The sci-fi sound of the ondes martenot is playing a key part in the upcoming performance of an epic symphony.

Read more
Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white supremacists last year
103662 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Crime

Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white su…

by RNZ

A Canterbury gunsmith living and working says he told police less than six months ago they needed to look at the rise of white supremacists with guns.

Read more
12 moments that show how New Zealanders have united in the face of terror
103665 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Social issues

12 moments that show how New Zealanders have unite…

by Vomle Springford

In the following days after the Christchurch terror attacks, New Zealand has come together to support the victims of the shootings.

Read more
How modern art inspired the music of Anna Clyne's Abstractions
103649 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Music

How modern art inspired the music of Anna Clyne's…

by The Listener

The works of the English contemporary composer feature in the NZSO’s forthcoming The Planets series.

Read more