Director Pawel Pawlikowski sets forth on the task of crafting the story of a musical director and a young singer in his film Zimna Wojna (2018). The story is set amidst the backdrop of Poland post World War II. Zimna Wojna is Polish for Cold War. It opens with Wiktor (played by Thomasz Kot) and Irena taking auditions for a State-sponsored folk ensemble. The female lead of the story Zula (played by Joanna Kulig) appears for the same. Zula has an air of cataclysmic mystery characterized by ambition, talent, and serene confusion. The depth of her gaze paired with her voice sets the viewer ablaze on a path of unknown melancholy. Wiktor is no exception to it.
LIGHT AND SHADE (in Zimna Wojna 2018)
Wiktor and Zula have unquestionable chemistry from the first time their eyes meet. Zula has had a tormented life that we can see through flashbacks of her past. She qualifies herself through the auditions and enters the charming world of black and white. As a matter of fact, the entire movie has been shot in just these two colors. When working with black and white in the modern world of abundant colors, the best options are to play with light and shade, tones, and frames. Zimna Wojna does exactly the same. With proportionately crafted frames and a serene color construction amidst the backdrop of old-school Polish architecture, the viewer is already transported to a world unknown yet familiar.
Post the auditions, visuals of Jazz performances quickly take over as Zula warms herself into her latest profession as a singer. By this time, she already has an obsessive attraction towards Wiktor, that quickly takes the form of steamy bathroom coitus post a performance. The consequence of such an act is highly passionate for the viewer as he/she gets further intertwined with the story. In a Cold-War led country, the complications of a love affair are many. Wiktor never mouths his feelings for Zula, and there is always a sense of subtle confusion. They lay together in a grass field on a perfectly sunny day, and it takes seconds for them to get bitter. Zula is rebellious by her nature and age, in a way that appeals to Wiktor.
TWO POLES SO FAR APART
Political propaganda starts raising its head into Poland’s artistic endeavors. Wiktor and Irena are deeply affected by it. Their troupes are insisted upon pro-Communistic and pro-Stalinistic ideologies, which forces them to quit. One of their colleagues, Kagzmarek signs up for the whole thing and has an eye for Zula. He pressurizes Zula into spying on Wiktor but she couldn’t be interested in the same. Meanwhile, Wiktor plans on leaving the country with Zula, and they mutually agree. On the day of their rendezvous, Zula does not show up, leading a disappointed Wiktor to cross the borders alone. Having already left everything behind, staying back wasn’t really much of a choice. The viewer at this point feels bad for the two being separated.
Wiktor and Zula meet years later on the streets of Paris, both having separate partners, talking about their new lives. They reignite their passion for one another on the very night itself. The viewer is impersonated with the idea that the two couldn’t have been more lonely all these years with different partners. It was but a medium for them to fill their gaps for one another. This however is no indication of a happy ending.
NOTABLE JAZZ INFLUENCES (Zimna Wojna 2018)
Zula still performs with the troupe and a year later from the previous encounter, Wiktor attends one of their performances. This awkward reunion is followed by a series of brief encounters until Zula marries another man to obtain a permanent Visa for Paris. Wiktor is a film composer by this time. He previously performed in a Jazz club. In fact, a huge part of the movie consists of melancholy Jazz musicals. Some of the most emotional scenes are heightened with the convincing use of slow Jazz.
The two finally start living together but share an unhealthy relationship. Wiktor tries to help Zula release her independent Jazz record with the help of his producer friend Michael. Zula is a barely functioning alcoholic by this time, and she grows jealous of Wiktor’s past lovers. We empathize with her at this point, with a human pain not much different from our own. Wiktor is overly ambitious with Zula’s career and exaggerates her story to sell it better. The record is released after much chaos and bitterness. Zula has an affair with Michael, she upsets Wiktor with the same as an answer to her own insecurities. Wiktor is not free from his evils, and he is forced to hit Zula. She goes away to Poland after the same.
Connecting the dots…
A few years later Zula meets Wiktor at a work camp in Poland, where he has been imprisoned and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He had tried to come back to Poland (most likely for Zula) and was charged for fleeing to the West before. Zula promises to free him with a heavy heart, as we notice that Wiktor’s hands are mangled and he cannot play music anymore. Fast forward five years, Zula is performing again, this time as the wife of Kaczmarek and the mother of his son. Wiktor arrives from prison broken and defeated, as we realize that this was Zula’s compromise for getting him out of prison early. The two end up in the bathroom together, both of them miserable, and this time Zula begs Wiktor to save her.
They flee to a broken Church shown at the beginning of the movie, get married and swallow pills to die together. The beauty of the scene is such, it consists of just these two people amidst broken surroundings. Although it is a reunion, it is heartbreaking for we know that they are going to die. They sit on a bench in a field of grass embracing nothing, and this has become one of the most iconic movie-ending scenes of all time. The grass moves in the direction of the breeze, and the two sit together, dressed in black, holding hands, waiting to be swallowed in by the nothingness that follows.
CONCLUSION (Zimna Wojna 2018)
The viewer is subconsciously introduced to a realm of reality different from one’s own, through the conscious act of indulging in Zimna Wojna (2018). The story is loosely based on the lives of Pawlikowski’s parents, and he weaves them together through this movie. Space, time, visuals, and sounds explored in Cold War 2018 are elusive. Watching the movie is a spiritual experience in itself; something we cannot fully comprehend but can experience with our own ideals and limitations.
Further Reading: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/cold-war-2018