Holiday movie review / ‘Cold War’ (M) ****

This is the summer holiday film that cinema aficionados should make sure not to miss, writes reviewer DOUGAL MACDONALD.

THE theme of Polish writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski’s film is the pangs of exquisite but impossible love. It’s not a new theme – think “Casablanca”, “Elvira Madigan”, “Passionate Friends” as classic examples. But “Cold War” is special because its story takes place in the last years of the Stalinist dictatorship in the former USSR and its satrap Iron Curtain countries, with a leavening of western freedom in late 1950s early 1960s Paris.

Following World War II, the USSR continues to groan under a legacy of central control of everything from infrastructure to culture. To a war-damaged country house comes a troupe of young people selected for their potential as musicians. Their tutors are conductor and musicologist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) whose keyboard talents range from Bach to boogie and beyond and his producer colleague Irena (Agata Kulesza). Among the young singers is Sula (Joanna Kulig). In time, political correctness Soviet-style will insist on dominating every aspect of culture.

I saw “Cold War” as the third film on a day beginning with a pair of films with rock-bottom credibility scores – an awkward imitation of farce followed by a underwater fantasy actioner.  Films that challenge my attention, that confront my emotions, that appeal to my compassion, that impress me with their staging, performances and literacy and that do not use arrant fantasy to insult my intelligence, are films that I find easy to admire. 

“Cold War” obliquely tells the story of Pawlikowski’s parents whose own thundery relationship battle stretched over four decades. Filmed in flawless black-and-white with a musical score that thumbs its nose at modern jangly noises posing as music, it demands close attention, which it rewards with unshakeable credibility.  This is the summer holiday film that cinema aficionados should make sure not to miss.  Saving the best for last, it made my long day of movies complete.

At Palace Electric

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