Film Review: ‘Cold War’

There can be no prizes for guessing the historical milieu of Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War,” a transfixing miniature that evokes the eponymous midcentury geopolitical freeze with all the intricate, delicate decay of the Polish auteur’s Oscar-winning “Ida.” But the cold war at the center of this restless, ellipsis-filled film is one between hearts, not territories: Skipping with swift agility across European borders and a 15-year timeframe, Pawlikowski sketches an intense long-term love affair between two mismatched Polish musicians whose relationship is defined less by affection than a mutual, mistrustful, latently violent hostility. Loosely inspired by the tempestuous marriage of the director’s late parents — for whom the principals are named, and to whom the film is mournfully dedicated — “Cold War” may return to “Ida’s” meticulous monochrome aesthetic of “Ida,” but it’s a companion piece with its own tonal and structural energy: less emotionally immediate, perhaps, but immersively informed by the broken jazz rhythms beloved of its protagonist.

Amazon Studios has already secured U.S. rights to “Cold War,” the fine finish of which (combined with Pawlikowski’s post-“Ida” profile boost, sealed here by his first Cannes competition placement) should secure it plum arthouse slots across the globe. If it’s unlikely to match “Ida’s” extraordinary crossover box office, it’s also not a film that’s overtly courts its audience. Pawlikowski makes viewers work to fill deliberate, loaded gaps in his storytelling, while it takes some time for the relative glassiness of its beautiful, troubled onscreen lovers (played with gradually marked wear and tear by Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig) to crack — showing the resonance in their, well, coldness.

Film Review: 'Vice'