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Why Cold War Is One of the Best Films of the Century – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Why Cold War Is One of the Best Films of the Century



The current climate for film enthusiasts is a dream come true due to the proliferation of streaming services, the support given to arthouse theaters, and the opportunities for multi-faceted distribution. This means that film fans can now celebrate the amazing international film and television content that is available to them. The legendary filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, while accepting the Academy Award for Parasite, noted that once cinemagoers learn to accept subtitles, there are countless great new stories at their disposal. The film industry is a fluid one where skills are passed between artists from across the world.

One film that deserved more credit and will surely be viewed as an all-time great in the coming years is Paweł Pawlikowski’s 2018 romantic historical epic Cold War. While in any other year, Cold War’s praiseworthy reviews and obvious visceral beauty would have been enough for it to take home the Academy Award for Best International Feature, the overwhelming success of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma ended up dominating the conversation, forcing Cold War to go home empty-handed after Oscar night. Cold War was an incredibly personal project for Pawlikowski, who loosely based the story on his own parents; his parents’ sacrifice was respected by audiences and critics alike, as The Guardian praised Cold War as a “musically glorious and visually ravishing film” about tragedy.

Set within the immediate aftermath of World War II, Cold War tells the story of Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), a brilliant composer and conductor who attempts to create great works of art despite the grisly situation that surrounds him. One of Viktor’s jobs is to audition and select the new additions to his ensemble. After hearing a long line of similar and not-so-talented contestants, Viktor and his fellow music directors are blown away by a musical performance from the young singer Zula Lichoń (Joanna Kulig). Both characters are rooted in tragedy – Zula has been put on probation after getting into a heated, violent argument with her sexually abusive father. Wiktor has seen the devastation that his country has gone through throughout the war and the effects of accepting a fascist leader and refuses to stand in line and have his voice silenced. They’re both living in fear, yet they are inspired to work on their music as a way of expressing their feelings and hopefully bringing joy to others in the darker times. The romance that blossoms between them is incredibly charming, yet tinged with a sense of danger; it feels like at any point their relationship could be taken advantage of.

One of the most interesting angles that the film takes early on is how Wiktor’s refusal to accommodate pro-Stalinist propaganda into his shows gets him into trouble with the senior political forces who want to take over his performances and insert messaging within their concerts. Both Wiktor and Zula do not subscribe to their beliefs, knowing full well that it is an attempt to sow close relationships with the bureaucrats who intend to have them perform within the Eastern Bloc. It’s clearly a situation that would leave them both miserable, and thus Wiktor and Zula make their first bold decision to escape together. Pawlikowski brilliantly showcases how desperate circumstances can cause people in love to make quick decisions that are incredibly consequential for the rest of their lives; it’s powerful to see how determined they both are that they love each other that they’ll flee the country they’ve known as home for their entire lives in order to hold on to the music they love and escape the fascism that they hate.

Pawlikowski’s use of black and white cinematography in Cold War is nothing short of stunning, evoking a historical era and drawing comparisons between Cold War and other classic films such as Life is Beautiful, Bicycle Thieves, Germany Year Zero, and most obviously Casablanca which has a similar story revolving around lovers who are brought together through a conflict only to be split apart later on. The classical technique also helps to create an intimate and personal reflection for the filmmaker. The last title card that reads “for my parents” simply makes it more perfect.

Cold War is a film that will be remembered by generations to come, and Pawlikowski’s respect for his parents is evident throughout. It is a mature depiction of the fragile political state that Poland was in, and it proves that films about war don’t actually have to feature graphic combat sequences.

Due to the rise of streaming services, the support given to arthouse theaters, and the opportunities for multi-faceted distribution, it’s a better time than ever for film fans to celebrate the amazing international film and television content that they have available to them. When accepting the Academy Award for Parasitelegendary filmmaker Bong Joon-ho noted that once cinemagoers learn to accept subtitles, there are countless great new stories at their disposal. The industry is a fluid one, where skills are passed between artists from across the world. One recent film that certainly deserved more credit, and will surely be viewed as an all-time great in the coming years, is Paweł Pawlikowski’s 2018 romantic historical epic Cold War.

MOVIEWEB VIDEO OF THE DAYSCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

While in any other year Cold War’s praiseworthy reviews and obvious visceral beauty would be enough for it to take home the Academy Award for Best International Feature, but the overwhelming success of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma ended up dominating the conversation, forcing Cold War to go home empty-handed after Oscar night. Cold War was an incredibly personal project for Pawlikowski, who loosely based the story on his own parents; his parents’ sacrifice was respected by audiences and critics alike, as The Guardian praised Cold War as a “musically glorious and visually ravishing film” about tragedy. Even though it’s only been a few years since its release, Cold War has stood the test of time and will surely rank among the best films of the century.

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The Important Historical Story

Cold War Review: An Impossible Love in the Midst of Conflict

Cold War is set within the immediate aftermath of World War II, where Poland is caught between the pro-Stalinist and pro-Colonist propaganda campaign that has begun sweeping through Europe as the Soviet Union becomes increasingly powerful. The story focuses on Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), a brilliant composer and conductor who attempts to do great works of art despite the grizzly situation that surrounds him. One of Viktor’s jobs as part of his leadership role is to audition and select the new additions to his ensemble; after hearing a long line of similar and not-so-talented contestants, Viktor and his fellow music directors are blown away by a musical performance from the young singer Zula Lichoń (Joanna Kulig).

Both characters are rooted in tragedy; Zula has been put on probation after getting into a heated, violent argument with her father, who had been sexually abusing her. Wiktor has seen the devastation that his country has gone through throughout the war and the effects of accepting a fascist leader, and refuses to stand in line and have his voice silenced. They’re both living in fear, yet nonetheless they’re inspired to work on their music as a way of expressing their feelings and hopefully bringing joy to others in the darker times.

The romance that blossoms between them is incredibly charming, yet tinged with a sense of danger; it feels like at any point their relationship could be taken advantage of. It’s a much more mature depiction of what the fragile political state was like in the region compared to more obvious “Oscar bait” ever gets, and proves that films about war don’t actually have to feature graphic combat sequences.

Related: Best Movies About the Cold War, Ranked

One of the most interesting angles that the film takes early on is how Wiktor’s refusal to accommodate pro-Stalinist propaganda into his shows gets him into trouble with the senior political forces who want to take over his performances and insert the messaging within their concerts. Both Wiktor and Zula do not subscribe to their beliefs, knowing full well that it is an attempt to sow close relationships with the bureaucrats, who intend to have them perform within the Eastern Bloc. It’s clearly a situation that would leave them both miserable, and thus Wiktor and Zula make their first bold decision to escape together.

Pawlikowski brilliantly showcases how desperate circumstances can cause people in love to make quick decisions that are incredibly consequential for the rest of their lives; it’s powerful to see how determined they both are that they love each other that they’ll flee the country they’ve known as home for their entire lives in order to hold on to the music they love and escape the fascism that they hate.

The Beauty of the Cinematography

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca
Warner Bros.

In another case of Cold War being overshadowed by the other major international film released the same year, Pawlikowski’s gorgeous work on Cold War’s cinematography was denied a win by the Oscars, as Alfonso Cuarón also took home the prize for his work on Roma. It’s again a case where two films felt equally deserving, and both notably make great use of black and white. While modern films using black and white can often be seen as simply a gimmick, Cold War uses the old-fashioned technique to evoke a historical era. It also may be reflective on Pawlikowski’s part, as he’s telling the story of his own parents; it’s almost as if he’s scrolling through old family photographs.

The classical technique also helps draw comparisons between Cold War and other classic films. There’s certainly visual similarities with classics like Life is Beautiful, Bicycle Thieves, Germany Year Zero, and most obviously Casablancawhich has a similar story revolving around lovers who are brought together through a conflict only to be split apart later on.

Related: The Best Foreign Language Films, Ranked

Pawlikowski’s Personal Inspiration

Armageddon Time
Focus Features

Cinema often has the power to heal and serve as a personal reflection; many of the greatest films in recent memory are based on the filmmaker’s own life, such as Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans or James Gray’s Armageddon Time. There are many reasons why Pawlikowski may have chosen to tell his parents’ life story in such intimate detail, but the respect he had for them couldn’t be more clear by the end.

Pawlikowski is a brilliant artist who already created a masterpiece with the religious drama Idabut Cold War is a film that will be remembered by generations hence. The last title card that reads “for my parents” simply makes it more perfect.

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