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Pawel Pawlikowski
Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc
Writing Credits:
Pawel Pawlikowski, Janusz Glowacki

In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Polish DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/19/2019

• Interview with Director Pawel Pawlikowski
• Cannes Press Conference
• “The Making of Cold War” Featurette
• “Behind the Scenes of Cold War” Featurette
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Cold War: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2018)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 11, 2019)

When the 2019 Oscar nominations emerged, 2018’s Roma became a rare Best Foreign Language Film contender to also snag a spot as a Best Picture possibility. Given this rarified air, no one felt surprised when Roma took home the Best Foreign Language Film award.

Though it didn’t earn a Best Picture nod, 2018’s Cold War also managed an unusual feat of its own, as Pawel Pawlikowski received a nomination for Best Director. Ultimately, Cold War received no Oscars, but given the competition from Roma, it still did well for itself.

Initially set in late 1940s Poland, a musician named Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot) visits the countryside to discover and collate folk music. While there, he meets Zuzanna “Zula” Lichon (Joanna Kulig), a beautiful young singer.

From there, the pair launches a star-crossed romance, one that hits snags due to both geography and repression. As Wiktor flees to “decadent” Paris, Zula remains behind the Iron Curtain, and they struggle to maintain a connection.

In the US, streaming services owned the rights to both Roma and Cold War, a fact that meant both received limited theatrical engagements. This became a bigger issue with Roma due to its pedigree.

Normally a black and white Spanish language film wouldn’t receive much attention in the US, but because Alfonso Cuarón directed it, the movie generated more public attention. A few years earlier, Cuarón won the Best Director Oscar and had a box office hit with 2013’s Gravity.

Oh, and Cuarón directed one chapter of a little franchise I call ”Harry Potter”. This made him a much bigger “name” than Cold War’s Pawel Pawlikowski, and ensured that despite its serious “art house” vibe, Roma would muster more public attention than the average foreign language film.

As for Cold War, it attracted that usual cinephile crowd and not much more, I suspect. Because I have yet to see Roma, I can’t judge its general appeal, but War definitely lacks a tale that would attract the masses.

Honestly, I can’t find a whole lot in War to make it interesting for the film buff crowd either. While the story comes with potential, its execution seems lackluster.

In terms of narrative development, that is, as War comes with its own particular strengths. I can’t fault the appealing black and white cinematography, as we always get an image that provides a sumptuous visual piece, even in the more gloomy surroundings.

I take that back, as I can fault one aspect of the photography: its “on the nose” symbolism. Early in the movie, I noticed that most of the time, the characters remained relegated to the bottom half of the screen.

In general, the actors filled the full frame during scenes of strong emotion. I get the rationale for this choice, but it doesn’t work.

Anytime a viewer becomes aware of framing decisions such as this, it means the story’s emotional impact fails. If I became more invested in the tale, I wouldn’t notice the shot decisions, so it seems like a problem that I did.

Beyond that, I feel Pawlikowski bites off more than he can chew in terms of narrative ambition. He attempts to pack many years and settings into an 88-minute film, and this tends to leave characters and story areas undercooked.

We don’t really get much rationale behind the Wiktor/Zula connection, and their relationship fails to develop in a meaningful manner. We just need to swallow on face value that they share a passionate connection.

While I don’t demand – or want – a movie to spoon-feed these character elements, War simply makes them too ill-defined. Pawlikowski seems more interested in long scenes of native music than anything else, so a short film finds itself with even less room for story expansion than otherwise might occur.

Maybe I’m just a big dumb American who can’t understand the greatness of foreign cinema, but I admit I don’t find much to appeal to me in Cold War. Other than its attractive photography, it seems like a slow, dull stab at a period romance.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Cold War appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a pleasing presentation.

Sharpness was strong. Virtually all of the film looked concise, with nary any softness on display.

No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws also failed to create problems.

The black and white elements boasted nice contrast and impact. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows showed good delineation. All of this left us with an “A-” transfer.

One shouldn’t expect much from the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundscape, as it remained decidedly low-key. Still, it offered a bit more pep than expected, as effects used the side and rear speakers in a moderate manner.

Not much occurred in this regard, but the mix managed to spread elements in discrete locations, and these moved well. Nothing here dazzled, but the effects prompted more involvement than I anticipated.

Audio quality was fine. Speech sounded natural and distinctive, without edginess or other issues, and music was full and rich.

Effects were clean and accurate. They didn’t tax my system but they satisfied. This was a more than acceptable soundtrack for a quiet character piece.

As we shift to extras, we find an Interview with Director Pawel Pawlikowski. In this 37-minute, three-second piece, he chats with fellow filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu about the film’s origins and development, autobiographical elements and reflections on his family, cast and performances, cinematography, music, editing, influences and related areas.

I worried this chat might devolve into basic praise for each other, but Pawilkowski and Iñárritu avoid that trap. Iñárritu acts as a fine interviewer and elicits lots of good information along with his own concise observations in this enjoyable piece.

From 2018, a Cannes Press Conference runs 28 minutes, 44 seconds and features a panel with Pawlikowski, producer Ewa Puszczynska, director of photography Lukasz Zal and actors Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot and Borys Szyc.

The panel covers music, cast and performances, story/characters, makeup, and other film domains. A fair amount repeats from the Pawlikowski interview, and the new topics don’t add much, so this becomes a lackluster discussion.

With The Making of Cold War, we locate a 13-minute, 31-second reel that involves Pawlikowski and shots from the production. Pawlikowski tends to cover material already addressed in the earlier programs, but the footage from the shoot helps make this moderately engaging.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc ends with Behind the Scenes of Cold War. It spans 16 minutes and features Pawilkowski, Kot, Puszczynska, Zal, Kulig and costume designer Ola Staszko.

Expect comments that echo subjects touched on previously, so we don’t get a slew of new insights. This still manages to become a decent overview, even though it leans toward the redundant side of the street.

Finally, the set includes a booklet that mixes the usual credits and art with an essay from film critic Stephanie Zachare. It brings a little value to the package.

With its portrait of love under challenging circumstances, Cold War comes with strong dramatic potential. Unfortunately, the movie feels more concerned with never-ending musical sequences than actual character/story areas, so it ends up as a lackluster romantic journey at best. The Blu-ray brings excellent visuals as well as acceptable audio and mediocre supplements. Cold War becomes a sluggish disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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