Blu-ray Review: Cold War | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, May 31st, 2020  

Cold War

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Apr 03, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Love can be one of the most powerful connections that a human being can feel towards another person. However, that doesn’t mean that the love that is expressed is always healthy, nor is it without consequence. When you throw socioeconomic strife and cultural turmoil into the mix, you’re in for a world of heartache regardless of your best intentions. While these opening words may seem rather cynical in tone, it is hard to distance yourself from such inclinations when dealing with such a powerful cinematic offering such as Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War.

The story begins in post-World War II Poland, where Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) are auditioning countryside youth for a folk music ensemble. The pair begin their process quite professionally, passionately desiring the pure folk sound and songs of their native populous. They are almost immediately hampered by the state official Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc) pressuring them into including pro-Communist and pro-Stalinist propaganda in their performances so that their tour could extend to the eastern bloc, and so that the troupe can receive proper production funding. Soon after rehearsal begins, Wiktor’s eye turns to Zula (Joanna Kulig), a young woman faking her identity while reporting on the troupe to the local police in order to meet the terms of her probation. Wiktor and Zula quickly fall into an obsessive love affair with one another. When the troupe arrives in East Berlin to perform, Wiktor announces his plans to Zula to flee to the west, urging her to come with him. While she initially agrees, Wiktor soon finds himself walking to the border alone. However, this would not be the last time they are with one another. Not by a long shot.

The prime story arc at play in Cold War lasts decades, with our main characters meeting and leaving each other in a thrashing whirlwind of passion and angst. That isn’t to say that the two do not share their soft and intimate moments, but they do so through a thick miasma of social obstruction and clashing personalities. They love each other but they hardly can live together, and constantly end up the victims of their own temperaments. Shot in black-and-white, the film pulls inspiration from numerous moviemaking theaters in Europe, most predominantly in the sections which take place in France looking and feeling very much like a movie made during the New Wave.

The embittered love story is less a commentary on the actual Cold War, as it is using the setting to explore how an impossible love manages to progress on its own terms. The movie is an incredibly bleak portrait, while simultaneously a harmonic exploration of human sentiment where the musical score becomes paramount to fully experiencing this journey. I wanted these two to honestly succeed, while also understanding how improbable a positive relationship would exist between them in the midst of everything they undergo. By the end, I was a tangle of conflicting emotions and conceptions -- just as our protagonists.

A critical and commercial success when released in 2018, Cold War went on to dominate European award ceremonies, as well as securing three Academy Award nominations which included Best Director, Best Foriegn Film, and Best Cinematography. It would be distributed in the USA by Amazon Studios, and it has come to be released for home consumption by the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray. And Criterion certainly did not disappoint with this release, as it is bursting at the seams with supplemental features.

Boasting a new cover by the extremely talented designer Katya Mezhibovskaya, this release includes a crisp 4K digital master supervised by Pawlikowski and director of photography Łukasz Żal, a brilliantly lush 5.1 surround audio soundtrack, and new English subtitles. A fascinating videoed conversation between Pawlikowski and acclaimed filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu is worth the price of admission alone. Though the disc also includes a press conference from the 2018 Cannes Film Festival featuring Pawlikowski, Żal, Kulig, Kot, and Szyc, and producer Ewa Puszczyńska, as well as a pair of making-of featurettes, and the film’s trailer. The whole release is rounded out by the fantastic and eloquent essay “You’re My Only Home” by renowned film critic Stephanie Zacharek.

While I was first reluctant to give this film a go, due in large part to the sizable hype surrounding its original theatrical release, I could not have been happier being proven so wrong. Cold War is simple at a glance, yet is one of the more thoroughly nuanced explorations of love, society, and humanity in recent memory. While there may be some who disagree on the potency of its characters and story, we cannot disagree that this Blu-ray is well worth the asking price.



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