Cold War stars Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot and was directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Taking place over roughly a decade, it tells the story of the tumultuous affair between the Polish musician Wiktor, played by Tomasz Kot, and performer Zula, played by Joanna Kulig. Come award season, there always seems to be a handful of films that I just do not understand the praise for. 2018 was a particularly bad year for that and Cold War was the biggest offender. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Cold War was that I thought this one actually looked like it could be okay.
This was one of those movies that I drove several hours to be able to see in the theater, so that was a little disappointing. I guess I can take solace in the fact that I wasn’t dying to see it at least cause that would’ve been an even bigger disappointment. I’ll admit that the trailer I saw wasn’t very informative. I knew this was gonna be about a romance and there was music, but really had no clue of the plot at all. So, after the initial cacophonous opening scene, I actually was pretty interested. It had a really unique premise and I was on board for the first twenty-five minutes or so. The premise was intriguing, our would-be lovers had been introduced, some drama had ensued, and then – cut! Black screen.
The next scene opens and we’re in a different place a year or two later. Odd. But okay, maybe the time jump was necessary to develop some unseen plot point. Song and dance number, encounter and drama between Wiktor and Zula and – cut! Black screen. Open scene: a new place, another year. Again and again. Cold War repetitively lurched through time with this staccatoed style and it resulted in an entirely unimpactful story. The time jumps and monotony of the plot made it incredibly difficult to ever get attached to any of the characters enough to even care about what happened to them, let alone get invested in their relationship.
It also didn’t help that neither of the two leads were particularly interesting or sympathetic. It was just an incessant cycle of one character pining after the other while the other plays on their emotions for their own gain. Reverse, rinse, and repeat. The toxicity of the relationship was so off-putting that there wasn’t a moment in the film where I actually believed that these two characters cared for one another, which just made the film’s structure all the more frustrating. So why the near-universal praise? I have no idea. The plot’s pretty atrocious, so the only things that this film’s got going for it are the technical elements. I liked the decision to film in black and white and use the 1:37:1 aspect ratio.
That, combined with the folksy costumes, definitely made this film seem older than it is and more of the time period in which it’s actually set. The cinematography was fantastic, though I sometimes think black and white movies have a natural advantage on that front due to the inherent contrast in the image. This film definitely has a lot of wonderfully-designed shots: the back-to-the-mirror party conversation, the slow pan from singing Zula to pianist Wiktor, Zula and Wiktor walking through the city streets. But, unfortunately, that’s all there is. It’s no wonder those are the moments used in the trailer. A few fantastic shots, a unique premise, two hearts, and four eyes are not enough to win this Cold War. Alright, let’s take a look at these pros and cons. Honestly, the only pro I can even stretch for is the cinematography. There are some fantastic shots and the black and white really manages to bring a contrast-laden, brilliant look to the film.
The monochrome style also helps bring a sense of slice-of-life authenticity to the movie, especially when combined with the 1:37:1 aspect ratio. Oh, I guess a second pro is that it’s pretty short at an hour and twenty-five minutes, though it certainly doesn’t feel that short. Unsurprisingly, the con side is a bit heavy for this one. The biggest issue is the stacattoed timeline presentation. It’s totally reasonable to have a love story span years, but the repeated use of abrupt full cuts was just obnoxious after the second or third time. It prevented any sort of flow in the story and frustratingly killed the momentum every 15 minutes or so. Along those same lines, con number two is the incredibly repetitive story structure.
Although each time jump placed us in a new location and a new time, the basic story was the same each time. Open with a loud concert performance, have a quiet sulking character moment, follow-up with a romantic scene and drama, and then cut without any attempt at resolution. Over and over again. Con number three is the byproduct of the previous two and that’s the lack of character development. By continuously jumping forward in time after very small moments with the main characters, we aren’t able to come close to connecting with or having empathy for them.
I never felt like I pulled anything substantial out of their personalities other than jealousy, conceitedness, and a hint of dependency, resulting in a pair of characters I couldn’t wait to stop watching. Before I give you my rating and recommendations, I want to remind you that if you’re interested in buying Cold War or any of the films I mention today, I do have affiliate links for all of them in the description below. I get a small commission from anything you buy using one of my links, so I’d really appreciate if you’d use them if you’re in the market for any of these movies. I’m gonna give Cold War 1.5 out of 5 paws. It’s a good-looking film, but it rings entirely hollow. A beautiful, thin shell is not enough to make up for the complete lack of substance at the center of this disjointed sequence of repetitive vignettes.
I honestly have a really hard time recommending this film to anyone. I suppose if you’re interested in the cinematography side of film, this might be worth a watch just for a look at some decent modern black and white photography, but there have been some other films like Roma that same year that did just about everything better. I gotta say though, that I can’t recommend this to anyone based on the plot alone. If you liked Cold War, I’d recommend you check out The Before Trilogy for a much better set-across-years-and-places love story. These films are all about character development and you still get the time-factor thrown in too.
If you enjoyed the cinematography, I’d definitely recommend Roma for some more fantastic shots and black and white photography. And if you were intrigued by the unusual aspect ratio, you might want to check out The Lighthouse for not only an atypical ratio, but also some more black and white cinematography. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Cold War? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite modern movie that’s filmed in black and white? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.