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REVIEW: "Cold War"

By Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler.com

originally published: 12/22/2018

REVIEW: "Cold War"

Back in 2006, German cinema scored something of a breakout global hit with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, which followed the travails of a group of disgruntled, pro-western artists in communist era East Germany. At the time I couldn’t help view the protagonists of Von Donnersmarck’s drama as the sort of people who would be just as discontented with their lot if they found themselves living in the capitalist west. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Perhaps writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski viewed The Lives of Others and came away with the same thought, as his latest film, Cold War, explores exactly such a notion, summed up in a scene where a character suggests to her lover that they move to the other side of a road. “Perhaps the view will be better over there.”

The characters in question are Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), who over the course of Pawlikowski’s relatively brief film, engage in a turbulent, on-off relationship that spans three decades and both sides of the Iron Curtain.

REVIEW: "Cold War"

They meet in 1949 Poland, when Zula is chosen to audition at a state school for those possessing musical attributes, a sort of communist ‘Poland’s Got Talent’ where pianist Wiktor acts as a Simon Cowell figure, deciding which ‘peasants’ should represent Polish culture and which should be sent back to the mountains. Though she fails to impress Wiktor’s female co-selector, the teenage Zula’s looks and feistiness strike a chord with the older man, who selects her for a place at the school and soon embarks on a sexual relationship with his student.

One day Zula confesses that she has been secretly working for the Polish authorities, who have suspicions about Wiktor’s political allegiances. While on a trip to East Berlin for a festival of music involving Europe’s various communist nations, Wiktor attempts to convince Zula to flee across the border with him, but she chickens out at the last moment, leaving him to begin a new life in Paris on his own.



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Unable to return to his homeland, where he would face a lengthy imprisonment, Wiktor assumes he has seen the last of his young lover, but over the next two decades, Zula and Wiktor are reunited and rent apart several times.

In one of Wiktor and Zula’s first interactions, Wiktor has his student practice her vocal range, literally manipulating her voice with the keys of his piano. Once in a relationship with Zula however, Wiktor finds he is unable to pull her strings to his demands, a frustration that will disrupt the relationship over the next 15 years. The image reoccurs later, in ‘60s Paris, when Wiktor is producing Zula’s jazz record, and finds that as both producer and lover, he is unable to communicate his ideas to the woman he nevertheless can’t live without.

Like their previous collaboration, 2013’s Ida, Pawlikowski and his cinematographer Łukasz Żal shoot in black and white in academy ratio, creating some truly stunning images, the narrow frame reflecting the claustrophobia of some of the scenarios the film’s protagonists find themselves trapped in. With so much time devoted to the various musical performances Wiktor and Zula engage in, Cold War might qualify as a musical by some viewers’ metrics, and the tunes are so catchy, and fresh to audiences outside Pawlikowski’s homeland, that it could do for Polish folk tunes what the Coen Brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou? did for Appalachian bluegrass.

Kulig is an actress I’ve seen in many a supporting role in various Polish and French films, including Pawlikoski’s The Woman in the Fifth and Ida, and she grasps the chance to take centre stage here with all the pent up fury of a teenage girl given three minutes to impress a talent show jury.

For all the pretty images conjured up by Pawlikowski and Żal, it’s the performances of Kulig and Kot that hold the narrative together. I have to confess I struggled to invest in their characters’ romantic relationship - one which begins with both parties taking advantage of their opposite’s vulnerabilities and never really seems to progress beyond any superficial, surface level attraction - but Kulig and Kol are so mesmeric in the roles that it was only after the credits rolled that I came to this conclusion, my decision perhaps exacerbated by the movie ending with a preposterously melodramatic grand gesture that suggests it was penned by an overly emotional teenager.

Cold War - 3 1/2 stars out of 5

Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski;

Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cédric Kahn






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Black Maria Film Festival To Kick Off 38th Annual Tour On February 9
(PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Black Maria Film Festival will kick off its 38th annual tour with a screening of five award-winning films on Saturday, February 9 at the James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street. The screening will begin at 7:30pm, preceded by a pre-screening reception at 7:00pm. Some of the filmmakers and Festival Director Jane Steuerwald will be at the screening to discuss the films being shown. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.
UCPAC Presents Three Classic 80s Films on 35mm Film
 (RAHWAY, NJ) -- A series of three classic films is being presented on 35mm film at Union County Performing Arts Center’s Main Stage theater. All viewings cost a $5 admission ticket that includes a 30 minute pre-show on the theater’s historic "Biggest Little Wurlitzer" organ and free popcorn along with the film screening. The films include The Breakfast Club (January 25), Pretty Woman (February 15), and The Karate Kid (March 8).
Hopewell Theater Hosts Special Valentine's Screening of "Casablanca" With Supper
(HOPEWELL, NJ) -- Hopewell Theater will host a special “date night” celebration of Valentine’s Day with a screening of the classic romance film Casablanca paired with an optional Moroccan supper on Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14. An undisputed masterpiece and perhaps Hollywood's quintessential statement on love and romance, Casablanca has only improved with age, boasting career-defining performances from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
A Look At New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program In Cinema Studies, presents the New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 which marks the festival's 37th Anniversary.  The Festival will take place between January 25 and March 1, 2019. Showcasing new international films, American independent features, experimental and short subjects, classic revivals, and cutting-edge documentaries, the New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 will feature over 35 film screenings. 
NJPAC Presents Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Live in Concert With The NJSO
(NEWARK, NJ) -- The Harry Potter Film Concert Series returns to New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Live in Concert, on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. See the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra perform the magical score live while the entire film plays in high-definition on a 40-foot screen.


Here We Are: An Interview With David Bellarosa
David Bellarosa is a filmmaker from New Jersey currently living in Austin, Texas.  His first feature film, Here We Are, is a terrific coming of age story about a writer that finds himself seemingly trapped, broke, and stuck in Austin. Unlike typical slacker films, this is one of hope.
REVIEW: "The Wild Pear Tree"
Writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows up his 2014 Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep with another lengthy drama set in rural Turkey. And as with his previous film, The Wild Pear Tree gives us a protagonist who considers himself the intellectual and moral superior of the residents of a town he wishes to “drop an atom bomb on.”
Mimi Vang Olsen: Pet Portraitist
Within two minutes, I knew I wanted to write about Mimi Vang Olsen: Pet Portraitist.  It’s a wonderful film - just over a half hour long - that chronicles the last West Village painter with her own storefront as she enters the lives of several eccentric clients and immortalizes their pets.  
How They Got Over: An Interview With Robert Clem
Robert Clem’s How They Got Over: Gospel Quartets and the Road to Rock and Roll shows how black quartets began traveling in the 1920s as radio and records became popular.   Young black men with few ways to escape poverty saw music as a way out, traveling the “chittlin’ circuit” of churches, schools and small auditoriums across the South.   Beginning with spirituals sung in an acapella “jubilee’ style, playing to all-black audiences, these groups developed over time a harder, often blues-influenced style with guitars, drums, organ and piano, playing at concert halls like the Apollo Theatre and large auditoriums across the country.   
REVIEW: "Glass"
When M. Night Shyamalan followed up his breakout 1999 hit The Sixth Sense with 2000’s Unbreakable, audiences were largely unsure what to make of this slow-burning movie about finding strength in survival. Arriving just before 9/11 and the rise of the superhero movie, Unbreakable was a film ahead of its time, predicting as it did with its villain - Samuel L. Jackson’s embittered, wheelchair bound Mister Glass - the threat that would rise in the early 21st century from entitled men obsessed with books (be they comics or religious texts) and striking out at a world they believe has left them behind.

From Our Magazine

Here We Are: An Interview With David Bellarosa

Here We Are: An Interview With David Bellarosa

David Bellarosa is a filmmaker from New Jersey currently living in Austin, Texas.  His first feature film, Here We Are, is a terrific coming of age story about a writer that finds himself seemingly trapped, broke, and stuck in Austin. Unlike typical slacker films, this is one of hope.


REVIEW: "The Wild Pear Tree"

REVIEW: "The Wild Pear Tree"

Writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows up his 2014 Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep with another lengthy drama set in rural Turkey. And as with his previous film, The Wild Pear Tree gives us a protagonist who considers himself the intellectual and moral superior of the residents of a town he wishes to “drop an atom bomb on.”


Mimi Vang Olsen: Pet Portraitist

Mimi Vang Olsen: Pet Portraitist

Within two minutes, I knew I wanted to write about Mimi Vang Olsen: Pet Portraitist.  It’s a wonderful film - just over a half hour long - that chronicles the last West Village painter with her own storefront as she enters the lives of several eccentric clients and immortalizes their pets.  


How They Got Over: An Interview With Robert Clem

How They Got Over: An Interview With Robert Clem

Robert Clem’s How They Got Over: Gospel Quartets and the Road to Rock and Roll shows how black quartets began traveling in the 1920s as radio and records became popular.   Young black men with few ways to escape poverty saw music as a way out, traveling the “chittlin’ circuit” of churches, schools and small auditoriums across the South.   Beginning with spirituals sung in an acapella “jubilee’ style, playing to all-black audiences, these groups developed over time a harder, often blues-influenced style with guitars, drums, organ and piano, playing at concert halls like the Apollo Theatre and large auditoriums across the country.   








Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 24, 2019


THEATRE
"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm

American Theater Group: Tell Them I’m Still Young @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 7:30pm


Some Girl(s) @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm


MISC

Josh Gates Live! @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 7:30pm

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