NYFF Film Review: ‘Cold War’ Finds Its Strength in Joanna Kulig’s Fiercely Felt Portrayal


2018 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Appropriately titled due to its cloudy and distant nature, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s deeply involved “Cold War” ventures off into an unconventional love story without really inviting the audience into the relationship. Likely its point, the film feels like watching a relationship from the outside and getting a second-hand account of the events that took place. Never genuinely getting to the root of their love, what the viewer is left with is a yearning for more, but wrapped in a riveting performance from Joanna Kulig.

Cold War,” tells the story of Wiktor (played by Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Kulig) and their passionate love story. Coming from different backgrounds and temperaments, the two are fatefully mismatched against the backdrop of the Cold War in 1950s Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia, and Paris.

Joanna Kulig is one of those actresses that, if present in American cinema, she would be one of the biggest stars on the planet. She ferociously attacks her role with vigor and intensity. Kulig can rip into a scene one moment with words and anguish, right before she floors you with her glowing eyes and somber appearance. You are almost in complete understanding of Wiktor and his hypnosis of the character. Despite Zula’s bizarre and unpredictable behavior, Kulig keeps you drawn in, wanting to stay close, despite all the danger of which we are acutely aware.

Tomasz Kot tries his hardest to keep up with the intensity of Kulig but is mostly overshadowed. His commitment to the role is apparent, but he doesn’t have the same fervor and force as his co-star. Agata Kulesza, someone we all learned about from “Ida,” is brief yet memorable in her short role.

Cinematographer Lukasz Zal, who found his way to an Oscar nomination for “Ida,” achieves greatness once again, this time with more finesse and creativity than before.  Costume Designer Ola Staszko also manages to stand out, even with a black and white palette, that showcases the personality in the stitches, rather than the colors.

Cold War” may be hard to maneuver for an emotional response, but it has a destination, and it gets there with affectionate savagery we’ve come to expect from Pawlikowski.  In the end, we are left with a portrait of love, likely more real than the traditional “star-crossed” depictions we’re used to seeing.

“Cold War” is distributed by Amazon Studios and opens in theaters on Dec. 21.  It is also the Polish submission for Foreign Language film at the upcoming Academy Awards.

GRADE: (★★★) 

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “COLD WAR” ranks among the contenders!