Jonathan’s and my most recent nerd-cinema outing was to go check out Paweł Pawlikowski’s latest black & white Polish film, baby! And I really, really liked it. I liked this a lot. I liked it while watching it, I liked it walking out of the theater into the cold (thematic!), and it’s now the next day and I might like it even more. This was easily the most romantic movie I saw from 2018—sorry, A Star Is Born, sorry Beale Street, come back to me when your characters are smoking hollowly on the snowy streets of East Berlin in 1951 waiting in vain for their lover to arrive so they can clandestinely cross the border into the west, because that’s the most romantic shit I know!!
Actually, usually when people describe a movie as romantic a little vocal part of my soul goes “bah“, but that is because they so rarely mean THIS kind of romantic. They’re not often talking about passionate, foolhardy Polish artistes staring at each other in smoky music clubs and pulling each other into their arms in dilapidated buildings still pocked with bullet holes from the war and constantly leaving & coming back together & leaving again and increasingly fucked up about it. They’re not usually talking about movies that feel cold in a good way, cold like white satin, cold like an abandoned church roof broke open to the sky. They’re not talking about movies that end with a little inscription in the lower left: “for my parents.” Like Roma, the other beautifully shot black & white non-English film whose director is nominated for an Oscar, this story feels at once so, so personal, and like a great epic. Black & white was deployed so well this year. As was that 4:3 academy ratio also used in First Reformed, another bleak stunner right at the top of my list.
Cold War is a love story, but it almost feels a disservice to follow that with “set against the backdrop of the actual Cold War.” It is of the Cold War. It is a turbulent romance inextricably tied to several decades of politics, a love story that would have no heart without this history beating through it. The heart it does have, with this lifeblood, is fiery and forlorn and guarded, strange restless reckless secrecy combined with a fatalistic, foresworn abandonment to being tied to someone forever. And at only 85 minutes long, the economy of storytelling is at once bracing and elliptical, a spare, emotive saga spanning two decades in less than an hour and a half. That they can do so much in this time is due in large part to Łukasz Żal’s breathtaking framing, which makes each new shot feel like turning a page in an art book of an esteemed Eastern block photographer. Their previous film, Ida, was like this, too.
I liked Ida, but I love Cold War. I love its dramatics, its conversation on art & politics, the use of music (that song, oyoyooyy…), and watching Joanna Kulig at parties. I could watch just Joanna Kulig at parties for another 85 minutes.