The title of Pawel Pawlikowski‘s film Cold War might throw off prospective viewers. It is not about that war or war at all, except perhaps the internal and external ones we fight on an individual basis every day. No, it’s a romance movie, set over the course of several years in Poland, Germany, Yugoslavia, and France, that uses the war as a backdrop but largely only in the small details. It’s about two people, a pianist (Tomasz Kot) and a singer (Joanna Kulig), who meet at a musical academy and spend the next decade-plus in a love affair that seems both destined to never be but also to continuously come just close enough that it’s worth trying.
The film feels like it was shot out of a time capsule and onto the screen. It’s shot in gorgeous black and white, framed wonderfully in the Academy ratio, and filled with random, but brief, musical numbers. The story acts as a highlight reel, showing us approximately seven different periods over a decade of their lives, and allowing the viewer to fill in what happened in between with context clues and dialogue.
Cold War works because it delivers just enough information, because it’s never boring, because it looks amazing, and because its two lead actors have such great chemistry together. Their seemingly doomed romance is one we root for anyway because the performances are so charming and the characters are so well-defined. And probably because, before they become insufferable, the movie ends. It excised any potential amount of tedium, clocking in at under 90 minutes. But what a great hour and a half it is.
Conclusion: Cold War is a great bittersweet romance “highlight” reel.
Recommendation: If you have any interest in dramas or romances you need to see Cold War.