Skip to main content

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “loosely inspired” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

The canvas appears to unfurl organically at first, with an eye on the push-pull elements of opportunism and simple survival in post-WWII Poland. Tomasz Kot’s musical director Wiktor is buttoned down by the requirements of state edicts, spotting talent for a folk music troupe. Then Joanna Kulig’s applicant Zula catches his eye and his heart, leading to an affair and an agreement to leave for the West when the group performs in East Berlin. Except that Zula doesn’t show. “I wouldn’t have escaped without you” she will tell him pointedly; he fled alone. Later, they meet in Paris when he is working in a jazz club (nice), and again in Yugoslavia, where he is promptly turfed out on his ear. It is only a couple of years after this that they reunite properly in Paris, but things are not what they were; he hits her, she returns to Poland, he follows and ends up in a work camp. She gets him out through her connections (marriage to Borys Szyc’s party-line music official) and they make a suicide pact.

The narrative flights may serve the theme, but they detract from the love story itself. There’s no real engagement with the couple, who become increasingly functional as Cold War progresses. Such that, by the time of their mutual fates, it feels like they are doing this because Pawilokowski has scoped such a course out for them, not because it is germane. The story is mostly from Wiktor’s point of view – it takes about an hour before a scene lets us in on her interior position and even then, she remains oblique – which leaves various character points hanging. Such as a teacher entering into a relationship with a student, ensuring she is picked even because he is attracted to her (“Are you interested in me because of my talent? Or just in general?”) And her having been abused by her father. Arguably, there’s dual using here, with Zula reporting on Wiktor and getting what she wants out of the arrangement, but we’re allied with Wiktor’s perspective more often than not.

Pawlikowski’s political commentary is contrastingly much more engaging, chronicling as he does the music group’s changes in direction through anthem and uniform (and Stalin banners), Wiktor’s emphasis on creative freedom and Zula’s indifference to the same. Notably, Wiktor remains silent when his colleague Irena (Agata Kulesza) objects to the inclusion of propaganda.

But still, Cold War hinges on the couple’s interaction over fifteen years, and the picture at once seems to ask us to be involved in their fates and while simultaneously creating an air of indifference with regard to them. While they profess their love at various points – “I know that love is love and that’s that” Wiktor tells her when discussing her decision not to leave with him; later she tells her reflection “I love him and that’s that” – there’s no real evidence this is what it is, that it’s any more than an infatuation exacerbated by long periods apart. Pawlikowski hasn’t managed to persuade us otherwise, and the effect, when they are united for a period, is of two souls who don’t really mesh (“In Poland you were a man. You’re different here”). I could see that being intentional – the imposition of societal falsehoods breeds personal deceptions and misaligned expectations – but because the characterisations are so oblique that it’s unclear either way.

Lukasz Zal’s black and white cinematography is striking, as are the compositions, but they only add to the sense of an exercise in auteurism, self-dictated as the kind of film made by an acclaimed European director meditating on life, love and politics. In principle, the approach to telling this romance is an interesting one – doubtless inspired by When Harry Met Sally… – the backdrop even more so, but the overall result fails to gel.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.