Friday, January 25, 2019

Cold War

Cold War, at least for me, brings up an important distinction about the difference between appreciating a film versus liking it. Too often people look at movies and leave the theater believing on a gut level if they liked a movie it's great and if they didn't like it the film must be hot garbage (and quite possibly an attack on everything they hold dear including the entirety of filmmaking and good taste). Centering a story around the on-again off-again romance of a dysfunctional couple in post-WWII Poland and France, writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski produces a film that is easy to appreciate. As for liking it... well, let's just say the film let me cold.

In terms of look, style, the recreation of the time period, and the beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Lukasz Zal, Cold War certainly delivers. It also offers a pair of strong performances by Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig as musicians and lovers who are nearly as dysfunctional when apart as when they are together, making one wonder whether we are supposed to be rooting for the pair to end up together or finally break free of each other.

While I enjoyed both performances, the ambiance, the music, and world where the story unfolds, the narrative never made me feel one way or the other about the characters. Not love. Not hate. Not curiosity. Not sadness. Not contempt. I didn't wish for anything for them nor feel exceptions fulfilled or dashed by the film's conclusion. To put it another way, Cold War never captured my imagination. While watching how Pawlikowski unfolds his story held my interest, the film failed to connect with me on an emotional level. Wiktor (Kot) feels too much like a witness to the events of his own life, while the flamboyant Zula (Kulig) is too flighty or mercurial to ever completely embrace.

Although I found it difficult to like Cold War, and find it unlikely that I would return to it any time soon, it is easy to appreciate and recommend. Despite not necessarily liking the film, I can still appreciate the obvious artistry Pawlikowski brings to bear (even if the film never quite hits home for me personally). And those that do connect with Wiktor and Zula on a more emotional level are likely to get more out of the film than I did (and based on the response that the film has received, there are plenty that do).

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