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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Cold Waris an artfully crafted, flawlessly acted, meditation on love, memory and invented history that’s both deeply personal and politically attuned. In post-World War II Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) travels with what seems to be a group of ethnomusicologists, discovering and recording folk singers, instrumentalists and dancers. When the researchers happen upon a girl named Zula (Joanna Kulig), it’s not her voice that grabs them but something else: her energy and spirit, Wiktor says, adding, “She’s original.”
For the lanky, laconic Wiktor, it’s the beginning of a love affair that will not only bring the couple together but also inevitably force them apart, as the era’s changes in art and culture play themselves out with equal parts pageantry and piercing intimacy. As Wiktor and his cohorts scour Poland’s rural byways in their search for “peasant-style” authenticity, it becomes clear that their agenda has less to do with preservation than creating a usable collective narrative They are recruiting for a school that will result in a stage show celebrating Poland’s most primitive, ritualized past as a means of regaining national pride and identity.
Stunningly beautiful to look at, Cold Waris just as gorgeous to listen to, its soundtrack of old-time Polish music, jazz and nascent rock-and-roll giving this sophisticated romantic parable verve, momentum and undeniable sex appeal. Cold Waroften feels like a callback to the past it explicitly excavates.
Cold Wardoesn’t traffic in reassuring bromides about love conquering all. Who would be arrogant enough to suggest that love could conquer everything arrayed against Wiktor and Zula, including their own weakest impulses? These imperfect lovers turn out to be enormously sympathetic, even at their most fatally flawed. They bring unquenchable fire to Cold Warand keep it at a compulsively watchable simmer.