1005 Cold War

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Mr Sausage
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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#51 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:54 am

I found this a lovely and affecting film when I saw it in theatres. Discussion elsewhere on here helped me appreciate how well the film used metaphors and symbols to express shifting emotional realities. Anyway, here's what I wrote about it earlier on the forum in response to an unfair charge against it:
The manic pixie dream girl is a narrative device for male redemption, taking some lifeless, emotionless husk going through the motions and inspiring him to engage in life again. This is why it's derided: it's a dream figure of beauty, magic, and vitality who exists to redeem some male figure and imbue his life with meaning. It's the modern incarnation of a sprite, fairy, or other magic figure who helps redeem the hero.

Plainly none of that applies to Cold War. Neither of the pair are in a position to redeem the other. It's quite the opposite: they chase each other down the years hoping to fill some indefinable loss they've mistaken for each other. A country, culture, family, something is missing, and though their initial attraction offers a respite, it's overshadowed by politics. Zula isn't in a position to give herself totally to him because just being there forces her to compromise the relationship, to be an informer. Each subsequent meeting is a push-pull between desire and unfulfillment, bringing them together bodily, but further separating them culturally, musically, even linguistically. The very language of their love is replaced, ironically with the language of love. Zula's final line of dialogue expresses the hope that the view will be better over the next border they cross. The couple have spent the whole movie crossing various borders, real or metaphorical, hoping for just such fulfillment. We can't know if they find it over the next one.

This is not a manic pixie dream girl situation. This is not a redemption narrative. It's a melancholy situation of two people searching for a fulfillment they never quite find. Indeed, there's even the suggestion that Wiktor has fallen in love with a dream of his own making: the pure, idyllic, prelapsarian slavic beauty, a vision of innocence right off the mountains. Zula is not this: she's not rural, she knows modern entertainment better than folk art, she doesn't possess the "pure" voice of the other girl, she's shadowed by a dark history of sexuality and violence, she's politically compromised, etc. The movie even hints that this slavic dream girl is a cultural myth when Kaczmarek suggests dolling up one of the actual rural women to make her fit a slavic peasant ideal that Zula, a modern city girl, more outwardly represents. A vision of Poland to sell abroad. All this Wiktor dismisses, maybe because he's desperate to preserve the original vision, maybe because deep down corruption draws him more than innocence, maybe both. Who's to say. But either way, his Zula is evidently not quite the real Zula, and this is a big difference from the manic pixie dream girl, who's defined by her total availability and the fact that she's a dream that's not undercut by a more prosaic reality.

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knives
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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#52 Post by knives » Mon Oct 12, 2020 7:28 am

Related, but different I very much so appreciate how this fits into Pawlikowski’s changing style of character development. He got his start in documentaries and that device of event as first point of development is still here. The beginning of the movie seems inspired by Forman’s Audition as the early character development is based on this musical goal and the power dynamics it sets up. This probably helps a lot in that brevity we were joking about earlier as the table setting is so immediate.

Where it has changed, especially from an early work like My Summer of Love is the parsing down of events to that development. The film instead is almost in tableaux with each scene developing a single takeaway which shifts our knowledge of the character ever so slightly, I wonder if Palikowski has said anything about Vivre as vie as the Godard seems to share this quality, until we’ve finally ended with a radically different understanding of our leads.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#53 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Oct 12, 2020 10:13 am

My recollection is that I really loved the early part of the film, but was far less enthused after the move to France.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#54 Post by MichaelB » Mon Oct 12, 2020 12:52 pm

knives wrote:
Mon Oct 12, 2020 7:28 am
He got his start in documentaries and that device of event as first point of development is still here. The beginning of the movie seems inspired by Forman’s Audition as the early character development is based on this musical goal and the power dynamics it sets up. This probably helps a lot in that brevity we were joking about earlier as the table setting is so immediate.
Probably worth mentioning that:

(a) One of Pawlikowski's early works is a 40-minute documentary on the Czechoslovak New Wave, delightfully titled Kids from FAMU (1990). So it's safe to say that he's very familiar with the era, and as for Miloš Forman in particular, Pawlikowski has said more than once that A Blonde in Love is a personal favourite, which doesn't come as a surprise at all.

(b) Believe it or not, Cold War is Pawlikowski's longest film (although not by much; My Summer of Love is 86 minutes and The Woman in the Fifth is 85). Much like his compatriot Jerzy Skolimowski, whose films are invariably a few minutes either side of 90, he seems naturally inclined towards brevity.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#55 Post by Pavel » Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:12 pm

Pawlikowski was a guest at Sofia Film Fest when this came out, and there was a screening with him in person. (Don't know if he just introduced the film or if there was a Q&A afterwards.) I was late and they wouldn't let me in, so instead I saw Border. Was very disappointed that I couldn't see it on the big screen, because it was probably the best film at SFF that year (my favorite film I actually saw at the festival was The Wild Pear Tree, but I liked it a tad less when I revisited it earlier this year). Most of the details have escaped me, so I can't add anything particularly useful to the conversation, but I will say that I like it a bit more than Ida, which I find plottier and more broad. I think there's more specificity here when it comes to the characters, while Ida turns Ida into a bit of blank slate — we don't really understand her relationship to God and nunnery and life and so on, and the third act depends on her confrontation with the consequences of these things. Cold War, perhaps because the plot is a bit looser, avoids this without making its characters transparent bullet points.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#56 Post by Vincejansenist » Wed Oct 14, 2020 10:34 pm

A film that seems in such balance, each shot of course composed with such stillness (usually) of the camera contrasted with such detailed action layered through the depth of field. The sparse dialogue contrasted with the waves of meaning in the songs, their context, and composition. We cross a border, we go to a party of some sort or another, we have a love(r) scene, repeat. And I felt myself absolutely falling into the characters and the performances. The scene where we follow Zula aroused from her drunken stupor by Rock Around the Clock through the club and up onto the bar before crashing down is so thrilling.

Two questions I found myself with:

What do people make of the scene before the mirror after the troupe's first performance, where Irena propositions Wiktor briefly before Kaczmarek interrupts and expresses how moved he was by the performance (not unlike us I presume?). He praises Wiktor's genius and thanks both of them, before he too turns to gaze at the party, and Irena leaves. Are we meant to find Kaczmarek's response laughable or inauthentic? In that moment is Irena turned off by realizing her own participation in a propaganda piece and we're meant to draw a distinction between her and Wiktor? Or is it just we see all the young blond women behind them through the mirror and Irena has no interest in standing gazing at them like the two men do?

And while the film does feel so balanced, I wonder why we don't get any glimpses of Zula's life in Poland etc. while we stay with Wiktor in Paris? Pawlikowski continually refers to them as "both strong protagonists" in the press around the film, but kept any scene like that from the movie. It seems to keep us in/with Wiktor's point of view, and I wonder what other effects of that are, and if we were to, perhaps what scene(s) with Zula might have been worth considering.

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knives
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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#57 Post by knives » Thu Oct 15, 2020 7:12 am

To your second question I think that had to do with her status as a foreigner in a sense. She begins the film outside Polish society and do it only makes sense for her to become fused with it as he comes apart. Her fusion is a bit of a mystery so keeping it off screen makes a thematic sense even as you say it reduces our identification with her.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#58 Post by Nasir007 » Thu Oct 15, 2020 9:35 am

Vincejansenist wrote:
Wed Oct 14, 2020 10:34 pm
A film that seems in such balance, each shot of course composed with such stillness (usually) of the camera contrasted with such detailed action layered through the depth of field. The sparse dialogue contrasted with the waves of meaning in the songs, their context, and composition. We cross a border, we go to a party of some sort or another, we have a love(r) scene, repeat. And I felt myself absolutely falling into the characters and the performances. The scene where we follow Zula aroused from her drunken stupor by Rock Around the Clock through the club and up onto the bar before crashing down is so thrilling.

Two questions I found myself with:

What do people make of the scene before the mirror after the troupe's first performance, where Irena propositions Wiktor briefly before Kaczmarek interrupts and expresses how moved he was by the performance (not unlike us I presume?). He praises Wiktor's genius and thanks both of them, before he too turns to gaze at the party, and Irena leaves. Are we meant to find Kaczmarek's response laughable or inauthentic? In that moment is Irena turned off by realizing her own participation in a propaganda piece and we're meant to draw a distinction between her and Wiktor? Or is it just we see all the young blond women behind them through the mirror and Irena has no interest in standing gazing at them like the two men do?

And while the film does feel so balanced, I wonder why we don't get any glimpses of Zula's life in Poland etc. while we stay with Wiktor in Paris? Pawlikowski continually refers to them as "both strong protagonists" in the press around the film, but kept any scene like that from the movie. It seems to keep us in/with Wiktor's point of view, and I wonder what other effects of that are, and if we were to, perhaps what scene(s) with Zula might have been worth considering.
For the first question, yes Irena objects to selling out but Wiktor initially goes along, defecting later on.

And for the second, Wiktor is kind of the POV character. He see most major events through his life. His life isn't very interesting on his own - and his story wouldn't have been told but for his interaction with Zula. Zula is the one who brings something stirring to his life. So we see his life but all the moments where Zula enters and exits it. They are both protagonists and arguably Zula is the true lead - she's the eye of the storm so to say. It is appropriate then than Kulig is top billed. She's the 'woman to die for' who our POV character will never get over.

--

I'd say I admire this film immensely as it is made with great skill and is definitely extremely singular in that only Pawlilkowski could have made something like this. It is a refinement of his style in Ida. This is movie-making we don't see much at all these days. Most films today err on the side of indulgence. This film is lean to the bone essentially - anything remotely extraneous has been cut out. And it has not just been cut out, it was never there in there first place. This was made to be lean. It tells what many would consider a story of novelistic scope in 80 minutes - shorter than your average kids' animated feature. Hollywood might have made this an epic. The dour finale and the fatalism before that does have a cumulative impact and gives the film emotional power. So does the performance by Kulig - truly playing a woman to die for if ever there was one. It kinda leaves you wanting - wanting to know more these stirring characters.

I saw this at NYFF and honest to god thought this might be one of the beautiful bnw films ever made. Moment to moment, I was in awe of the cinematography. Infinitely superior to Roma which had a tad too digital a look for my preference.

The film is always involving and intriguing as you never know where it is going to jump next. My one critique would be the film doesn't have an escalating sense of drama or momentum. Or what you would call the entropy of a movie - or the arrow of time of a movie. Events happen in a slightly repetitive manner and then there is a final event. I think more of a narrative design might have led to even greater dramatic power as there would be a sense of inexorable fate stringing along the characters towards their inevitable (in hindsight) destiny. Would fit with the fatal gloom of the film too.

But nevertheless, I would be tempted to call it one of the best films of the 2010s. I frankly think in a reversal of status quo, it was the motion picture academy which for once recognized a film that the critics overlooked. It was broadly acclaimed but not nearly to the degree it should have been. I hope this is a film that is seen as singular and influential. And encourages more film-makers to experiment with an elliptical style of story-telling.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#59 Post by Vincejansenist » Mon Oct 19, 2020 5:43 pm

Nasir007 wrote:
Thu Oct 15, 2020 9:35 am
My one critique would be the film doesn't have an escalating sense of drama or momentum. Or what you would call the entropy of a movie - or the arrow of time of a movie. Events happen in a slightly repetitive manner and then there is a final event. I think more of a narrative design might have led to even greater dramatic power as there would be a sense of inexorable fate stringing along the characters towards their inevitable (in hindsight) destiny. Would fit with the fatal gloom of the film too.
I agree. We seem set at a distance from the two characters capital-d Dreams. Zula in particularly feels always lost and self-destructive, but without quite any polestar she's moving towards. The sort of "pure happiness" moment of the film, the pan around Zula and into the club as she sings which concludes on Wiktor, is certainly his Dream, but is it hers? She's always driving towards survival, reinvention, plotting her own course, but we have less access to what that course might be beyond just continual survival. In the absence of knowing what we might be moving towards, we simply enjoy the moving until it comes to an end.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#60 Post by Nasir007 » Mon Oct 19, 2020 6:27 pm

Vincejansenist wrote:
Mon Oct 19, 2020 5:43 pm
Nasir007 wrote:
Thu Oct 15, 2020 9:35 am
My one critique would be the film doesn't have an escalating sense of drama or momentum. Or what you would call the entropy of a movie - or the arrow of time of a movie. Events happen in a slightly repetitive manner and then there is a final event. I think more of a narrative design might have led to even greater dramatic power as there would be a sense of inexorable fate stringing along the characters towards their inevitable (in hindsight) destiny. Would fit with the fatal gloom of the film too.
I agree. We seem set at a distance from the two characters capital-d Dreams. Zula in particularly feels always lost and self-destructive, but without quite any polestar she's moving towards. The sort of "pure happiness" moment of the film, the pan around Zula and into the club as she sings which concludes on Wiktor, is certainly his Dream, but is it hers? She's always driving towards survival, reinvention, plotting her own course, but we have less access to what that course might be beyond just continual survival. In the absence of knowing what we might be moving towards, we simply enjoy the moving until it comes to an end.
That's a great point. I didn't think about it that way. And let me tell you something shocking. I wrote a short story in 2015 that when I now think back has a similar dynamic to this movie and might explain why I like this movie so much. :)

My lead female was like Zula and lead male was like Wiktor, only they did not commit suicide at the end. And even in my story, I had the lead female grasping at life with fistfuls but I never articulated what she was looking for.

And when I introspect, I can think of two reasons - and both can be true

1. My story ALSO saw her through the eyes of the male. It was him meeting her at various points in their life. So it was about him being struck by this category 5 hurricane of a woman. I guess us male writers can only see women on the outside, as how they affect men. But that's reductive.

2. No polestar is THE POINT. That is what results in the, let's call it, 'downfall'. There is drive, and smarts, and ambition, and hustle and grift, but nowhere to go. It's in the very nature of these characters like Zula. Nothing is enough. Nothing will ever be enough. Death will be the only finality and only cap to their appetite. Kinda like Icarus. They will fly and fly and fly, and the only destination is downwards.

But again you don't feel that in the movie. Well, you feel it and not quite. At least you don't feel she is on a death wish.

Eventually, though, her not having a polestar doesn't bother me. As I explain above, I can accept that as a character trait. But the slight lack of design in the narrative could have been handled better. Or maybe that's part of Pawlikowski's subversion too - to avoid an explicit design and I can respect that decision.

Either ways, a magnificent film.

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