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Film / Cold War

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Cold War (in Polish Zimna wojna) is a 2018 Polish drama film directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, starring Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot.

Zula (Kulig), a singer, and Wiktor (Kot), a pianist and a composer, fall in love in post-war Poland. Wiktor decides to defect and flees to France, but Zula prefers staying in Poland.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Zula says that her father had a habit of forcing himself on her mother. And while drunk, he confused his daughter for his wife.
  • Advertised Extra: Agata Kulesza, playing Bielecka, is in grand total of 8 scenes and leaves after initial 12 minutes. Borys Szyc, who played Kaczmarek, is a downplayed case (since he stopped being an A-lister a long time ago), but he still shows up only for a handful of scenes sprinkled throughout the whole film.
  • The Alcoholic: Strongly implied in the end with Zula. She looks and behaves the part, along with being piss-drunk while performing on stage. Considering what kind of things she did to Wiktor and then to get him out of prison, it's no wonder she turned to the bottle.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Did Zula and Wiktor's attempt at suicide fail? Or is the final scene a Literal Metaphor of them passing on the other side?
  • Amicable Exes: Wiktor and Juliette. Juliette even works with Wiktor to translate Polish songs.
  • Attempted Rape: Zula's father tried to rape her, but she defended herself with a knife. That's at least her version of events. She still has two years of a suspended sentence for that.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: Subverted. Wiktor thinks that Zula is at Michel's flat, so he goes there and enters the bedroom, but there is another girl in Michel's bed. Michel then tells that Zula has gone back to Poland.
  • Blackmail: Due to a suspended sentence and possibility of prison, Zula agrees to spy on Wiktor for Kaczmarek.
  • Book Ends: In the end, Zula and Wiktor decide to go back to the ruined church that Wiktor explored in the beginning. They intend to commit suicide there.
  • The Chanteuse: During her stay in Paris, Zula works as one in the club where Wiktor performs.
  • Citizenship Marriage: Zula marries an Italian to be allowed to get out of Poland and to join Wiktor in Paris.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: In Paris, Zula is very jealous of Juliette, the ex-girlfriend of Wiktor.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The most likely reason why Wiktor's hand looks like put through a meat grinder.
  • Commie Land: Communist Poland. And Yugoslavia, too. What makes this case curious is the fact Yugoslavia was an unaligned country, while Poland was under Soviet boots, making them "brothers in communism" on paper, but rivals in reality.
  • Crapsack World: Communist Poland, where people are forced to spy on each other, where artists and ethnographers are forced to make propaganda works and where you will go to a Hellhole Prison for 15 years if you leave the country illegally.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Zula was in jail because she assaulted her father. She says that she defended herself when her father tried to rape her.
  • Defector from Commie Land: Wiktor goes illegally from East Berlin to West Berlin, and then he settles in France.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: A 2018 black and white movie.
  • Destructive Romance: Zula and Wiktor are finally Driven to Suicide.
  • Driven to Suicide: Zula and Wiktor. In the end, they decide to commit suicide.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The entire casting scene is one for Zula. While waiting for her turn, she befriends another girl and performs with her to make herself more noticeable (despite not even coming from mountains and yet singing a folk song from there). When asked to sing something on her own and sensing Bielecka doesn't want her, she starts singing in Russian, making it thus hard to get rid of her for political reasons. And when told it's enough, she still demands on her own to finish the refrain. Bielecka instantly notes the girl is calculating and over-ambitious, but since Wiktor is charmed by her, she's still let into the troupe.
  • Femme Fatale: Zula combines coldness with being ruthless, while she doesn't shy from using her looks to achieve her goals. She actively plays on Wiktor's interest in her to just get into Mazurek and then marries twice to different men just to achieve what she wants.
  • Fingore: When Zula visits Wiktor in prison, she notices his hand was wrecked, most likely on purpose.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: In Paris, Zula is very jealous of Juliette, the ex-girlfriend of Wiktor. This is one of the main reasons why she goes back to Poland. In turn, she makes Wiktor jealous of her relationship with Michel.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Zula is this in Paris. Justified: she does it because she is jealous of Wiktor's past relationship and she cannot adapt to the Parisian lifestyle.
  • Hellhole Prison: The prison where Wiktor is sent when he goes back to Poland. When he finally goes out, he cannot play the piano anymore due to a completely mangled hand.
  • Heroic Seductress: Zula charms Kaczmarek and even has a child with him in order to get Wiktor's release.
  • Honey Trap: At the beginning of their relationship, Zula confesses to Wiktor that she spies on him for Kaczmarek.
  • Ironic Name: Wiktor, who is utterly defeated by love, politics, and life itself.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Juliette's knowledge about the situation back in Poland is quite... lacking, to say at least. It doesn't stop her from being judgemental over Zula, which the girl throws right at her with an extra spit of venom.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: After escaping from the country, Wiktor can't find his place in Paris and is longing for Zula. He travels to places where Mazurek performs and ultimately goes back to Poland in the end, despite everyone outright telling him it's a lethal level of stupidity.
  • Lost in Translation: While she's mostly fuelled by jealousy, Zula still makes a point Juliette's translation of the lyrics for her song completely misses the actual meaning.
  • Love at First Sight: Wiktor is immediately charmed by Zula during the audition.
  • The Masochism Tango: The toxic, violent, and dysfunctional relationship between Zula and Wiktor. And while they can't stand each other for prolonged periods of time, they also can't live without each other. They eventually opt for double suicide.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Despite being married twice, Zula couldn't care less about either of her husbands. This even includes having a son just for the sake of convenience.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Zula meets Juliette, Wiktor's ex-girlfriend in a party. They have a conversation full of sarcasm.
  • Opposites Attract: Played realistically. Since there is close to nothing Wiktor and Zula share aside from attraction, each time they try to be together, it eventually leads to a violent break-up and then spending few years trying to work things out and be together, only for the cycle to restart.
  • Propaganda Machine: Wiktor's troupe, Mazurek, is part of communist Poland's propaganda machine. Besides genuine folk numbers, it also performs propaganda pieces, like the one about how great Stalin is.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • The State Sec agents in Yugoslavia. They do capture Wiktor, but rather than handling him to Poles, they simply load him into a train heading to France and make it explicitly clear they don't want any harm to him, but no girl is worth the shit he is putting himself into.
    • The consul in Paris. When he's done with protocol, he simply chews Wiktor for his desire to return to Poland, because not only the country isn't the most pleasant place to be, but he's at best going to end up in prison for decades. At worst...
  • Rape as Backstory: Downplayed. Zula says that her father tried to rape her.
  • Signature Style: Just like his previous film, Ida, Pawlikowski wrote a Retraux story set during the 50s and 60s in Polish People's Republic about the inability to fit in, all filmed in Deliberately Monochrome.
  • Slimeball: Kaczmarek couldn't care less about the cultural role of the troupe. He's running the show for political connections, power, and comfortable life. If getting those means spying, blackmail, or throwing propaganda pieces into the repertoire - so be it.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs:
    • The entire propaganda value of Mazurek is to show to the "rotten bourgeoisie world" the true value of folk culture and art. Along with a hefty dose of Stalinist propaganda, of course.
    • For all her cunning and guts, Zula is just a simple-minded girl from a tiny village, trying to live her life to the fullest. Meanwhile, Wiktor is a well-educated artistic soul with such weird issues as personal freedom or melancholic brooding over everything. They both are attracted and at the same time disgusted by the differences between themselves.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Zula and Wiktor. They love each other, but they are separated from each other when Wiktor defects and goes to France. Several years later, Zula joins him in Paris, but she cannot be happy there with him, so she goes back to Poland. He decides to follow her, but he is arrested and sent to a labor camp.
  • Starving Artist: Wiktor does not make much money in Paris. He lives in a small, uncomfortable flat.
  • Stood Up:
    • Zula never shows up when Wiktor had planned to go to West Berlin with her. Finally, Wiktor decides to go alone.
    • Subverted later on in Paris. Wiktor waits for Zula a very long time in a bar, to the point where the barmaid tells him outright the girl he's waiting for won't come. The bar is going to close when Zula finally shows up.
  • Talent Contest: Wiktor and Irena organize one in the beginning to recruit singers and dancers. Zula participates and Wiktor is immediately charmed by her.
  • Time Skip: The story starts in 1947 and then keeps jumping years between scenes until reaching 1968 in the finale.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Wiktor goes back to Poland. Everyone knows it's a god-awful idea. He still goes with it and predictably ends up with a sentence of 15 years of hard labour in a quarry. If not for Kaczmarek's connections to get him out, he would probably have died there.
    • Irena could be either this or simply Driven to Suicide when he starts to visibly resent the political orders.
  • Unperson: Strongly implied to be the reason why Irena disappears from the story. She first shows clear dissatisfaction with adding propaganda to the repertoire and then walking out while Mazurek performs a song to Stalin. That's the last time she's seen or mentioned.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Whatever Zula ever says, should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Paweł Pawlikowski was inspired by the story of his own parents and he gave their names to the main protagonists, but this is not a faithful biopic.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Wiktor cannot go back to Poland because he left the country illegally.