Critics have warmly welcomed the return of Pawel Pawlikowski with Cold War, his first feature since Ida began its long award-winning run in 2013. Scoring some of the most promising reviews of any film in competition at Cannes so far, Cold War is the story of an intense affair spanning fifteen years and leaping across European borders, all told in just under ninety minutes. “There is an exquisite chill to this film,” finds the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, and, as David Ehrlich puts it at IndieWire, it’s “one of the most elliptical romances this side of Hiroshima, Mon Amour.”
There are superficial similarities between Cold War and Ida, but Variety’s Guy Lodge outlines the ways the new film is more of a departure. “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 the 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.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin notes that “Cold War also shares clear if subtle traits with the director’s other features, England-set tales of doomed love Last Resort (2000) and My Summer of Love (2004), and the Parisian-centered ghost story The Woman in the Fifth (2011), while retaining its own bewitching singularity.”
Praise is particularly strong for the cast. Joanna Kulig plays the singer Zula, and Sight & Sound editor Nick James finds her performance “powerful enough” for her “to become the Jeanne Moreau de nos jours. As pugnacious as she is enthralling, she centers the film as a kind of wild child bullshit detector who cannot co-exist with the insufficiently urgent Wiktor but cannot do without him either.”
Wiktor, a pianist, composer, and conductor, is played by Tomasz Kot, who, “perhaps, is a harder actor to care about,” writes the Telegraph’s Tim Robey, “but his stony remove gives the film contrast, and there are great, prickly scenes built around him, too.”
“The supporting cast of Agata Kulesza, Jeanne Balibar, and Cédric Kahn are universally excellent,” adds Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa.
The praise is not universal. Little White Lies’ David Jenkins, for example, finds it “difficult to get a sense of time passing, of things having happened, of events taking their toll on the psyche of the characters, of being able to see why emotions have developed in certain ways.”
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 4/5), John Bleasdale (CineVue, 5/5), Fionnuala Halligan (Screen), Rory O'Connor (Film Stage, B+), Steve Pond (TheWrap), Marc van de Klashorst (International Cinephile Society), Emily Yoshida (Vulture), and Stephanie Zacharek (Time).
Update, 5/27: Cold War is “like a novel written with the careful, precise economy of a short story,” finds A. A. Dowd at the A.V. Club, and “no shot or scene feels wasted.” More from John Bleasdale (CineVue, 5/5), Justin Chang (Los Angeles Times), Bilge Ebiri (Village Voice), Lawrence Garcia (Notebook), Richard Porton (Daily Beast), Jordan Ruimy (Playlist, B), and Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com). And Fabien Lemercier interviews Pawlikowski for Cineuropa.
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