Hot off its shockingly strong showing during the announcement of Oscar nominations last week, Paweł Pawlikowski's sparse love story, "Cold War" opens for a theatrical run in Rochester. In addition to the expected nomination for Foreign Language feature, the film earned nods for Lukasz Zal's lush black and white cinematography as well as a more surprising directing nomination for Pawlikowski himself.
Set against the ruins of post-WWII Poland, "Cold War" revolves around Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) a middle-aged music director, and Zula (Joanna Kulig), the young woman he falls for when she auditions for a spot in the traveling choral ensemble he's been tasked to create, bringing rural folk music to the outside world.
As the pair strike up a romance, he promises her a happy life together on the other side of the Iron Curtain, but when he defects to France, she chooses to stay behind. From there the film follows the star-crossed lovers over the course of the next 15 or so years, picking up with the couple as they're sometimes together, more often apart. As Wiktor and Zula are separated by political, geographical, and psychological divides, the story becomes an examination of the toll of a life in exile and the hardships of living under a totalitarian regime.
Wiktor and Zula are two broken people who can't stay apart, even when their circumstances (and good sense) tell them it's impossible. Kulig is fantastic as the tempestuous Zula, and her magnetic performance allows us to understand why the smitten and sentimental Wiktor would be tempted to follow her into oblivion.
The central couple are named after Pawlikowski's own parents, and though this isn't his parents' story directly, it is influenced by their stormy relationship. Together off and on for nearly four decades, theirs was a romance Pawlikowski called "a never-ending disaster" in an interview included in the film's press notes. With their story as inspiration, the filmmaker conjures up a movie romance as stark and chilly as its title suggests.