Sabin wrote:Cannes got it right by separating Paweł Pawlikowski's accomplishments as a director from the film itself. This is a stunning piece of moviemaking, gorgeous to look at, with a remarkable rhythm, giving the sense of a memory being lived before your eyes. There's no doubt that he had the entire movie in his head before he stepped on set. And that's the problem. The film is so concerned with its gorgeous construction that it doesn't find enough human moments to land in to make you connect with these two people. The best moment of the film arrives early when the troupe is essentially forced to ditch their dedication to authentic folk for pro-Stalin propaganda. Great moment. What follows really works because you're rooted in the how's and the why's of Zula's and Wiktor's love affair. But as it skips through time, his moody and her manic feel slightly arbitrary. It becomes slightly tiresome, arriving at an ending that might be personal but it doesn't feel earned. It either needed to give us more moments of these two as people or to ramp up the political backdrop to lend the affair more meaning.
There's much to like if not love in Cold War (and truly, this is a movie to linger in the moments), but this movie sets the bar extremely high and it doesn't quite clear.
I think this is all quite true. I am probably a bit kinder to the movie's potrayal of the central relationship, which at least tries to avoid that habit of over-explaining everything American movies too often fall into, and which Polish viewers may find less frustratingly elusive. But I have to agree that especially towards the end you feel that there's somehing missing - emotiobally even more than narratively - and a lack of a real sense of tragedy, of "building" tragedy. (This was more or less also true, by the way, of the same director's much praised Ida, which I found frankly worse than this one). For once, I wished this movie would be longer - more detailed in exploring the love story, less vague in dealing with minor but potentially interesting characters, like those played by Borys Szyc, Jeanne Balibar and especially the great Agata Kulesza - she has only a few scenes at the beginning, yet suggests a whole world behind her.
Which, of course, brings me to one of the good sides about this movie, which is the acting. Polish films are traditionally very well-acted, and Cold War is no exception. While they admittedly can't always overcome the problematic aspect of their too fragmented storyline, Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig are very, very good. She has the same radiance of those Central European stars of the 50s, the period most of the movie is set in - Maria Schell, for example, except that they often couldn't play bitterness very well while she can.
And as Sabin says, for all its flaws Cold War is extremely well shot and gorgeous to look at - a feast for the eyes, really, and not in the same, superficial way that for example Roma (also a black and white, carefully constructed movie) is. The look of the movie isn't "beautiful" in itself, and it's a pity that it can't always get to the dramatic effectiveness it clearly strives for.