Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War details the tempestuous relationship between a seasoned musical director (Tomasz Kot’s Wiktor) and a fledgling singer (Joanna Kulig’s Zula) – with the film charting the couple’s on-again-off-again exploits over the course of more than a decade. It’s clear immediately that Cold War‘s greatest asset is Lukasz Zal’s striking and often stunning cinematography, as the movie’s black-and-white visuals, heightened by Pawlikowski’s use of a 4:3 frame, immediately draw the viewer into the stark, spare proceedings and certainly remain a consistent (and, eventually, sole) highlight. Pawlikowski’s exceedingly, excessively deliberate approach is, right from the outset, awfully tough to stomach, however, with the meandering atmosphere exacerbated by the filmmaker’s inability to transform the scarcely-developed central characters into wholeheartedly (or even partially) compelling figures. Far more problematic, ultimately, is the total lack of chemistry or heat between Kot and Kulig’s respective protagonists, as so much of the narrative is predicated upon the will-they-or-won’t-they bent of the pair’s comings and goings – which ensures that the movie, stripped of any compelling material revolving around Wiktor and Zula’s tedious coupling, predominantly comes off as a pervasively (and profoundly) uninteresting exercise in pointlessness. And although Pawlikowski does manage to infuse the proceedings with a very small handful of almost incongruously electrifying moments – eg Zula rocks out to a high-energy ’50s tune – Cold War is a self-indulgent and mostly lifeless endeavor that could only exist within the context of a film festival.
* out of ****