Cold War Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Post-war Poland, 1949. The talented pianist and conductor Viktor (Tomasz Kot) and his assistant Irena (Agata Kulesha) travel around Polish villages and listen to folk song performers. The party and the government of Poland set before them the task of assembling a folk group “Mazurka”.

A certain Zuzanna (Joanna Kulig) comes to one of the auditions and asks to be called Zula. The girl sings well – she sings the song “Easy in the heart from a cheerful song” in United Statesn – she is bright, pretty and has a very difficult character. Irena, who immediately noticed Victor’s interest in Zula, tells him that Zula received a prison sentence for stabbing her father with a knife.

Victor and Irena managed to create an excellent folklore group, whose performances are a great success. The administrator of the collective is Comrade Kachmarek (Boris Shits), a representative of the government, who makes sure that folk songs are dedicated to whoever needs them, that is, to the genius of the great comrade Stalin.

Victor and Zula have an affair, despite the fact that they are very, very different people. In addition, Zula admits to Viktor that Kachmarek is forcing her to knock on the head, and she has nowhere to go: a suspended sentence hangs over her, which can become real.

The popularity of the group is growing and growing, in the songs they demonstrate high political awareness, so the management is going to send the troupe on tour to Berlin. It’s 1952, the Berlin Wall hasn’t been built yet, and Viktor offers Zula to escape to Germany during the tour. But things don’t go the way he planned.


There was an interesting story with director Pavel Pavlikovsky. He is, in fact, a documentary filmmaker, mainly lived and worked in France, Germany and England.

Since the end of the nineties, he began to stage feature films that were not very famous, but in 2012 Pawlikowski returned to Poland and made the film “Ida”, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2015 and won this Oscar (there once among the nominees was “Leviathan” Zvyagintsev). “Ida” was filmed in the old 4:3 aspect ratio and black and white film. For some reason I didn’t watch it, but now, apparently, I will.

On the set of “Cold War” Pawlikowski worked with the same operator as on the set of “Ida” – Lukasz Zal. (By the way, he also shot the film “Dovlatov” by Alexei German Jr.) And “Cold War” was also filmed in 4:3 format on black and white film.

And it was filmed just amazing! If we talk only about camera work – there are absolutely masterpiece shots and scenes. It would seem that it is a black and white film, but it is all so bright and expressive that there are frames that you want to cut out and place on the wall under glass.

“A love story carried through many years”, “The story of people separated by the regime” – in such topics one can slide into a tearful melodrama. But that doesn’t happen here. The story of Viktor and Zula is shown somewhat dotted – after all, the film, which lasts an hour and a half, covers a period of fifteen years, so it shows the creation of the ensemble, the fame of the ensemble, the escape, a short Parisian period and the final Polish period.

Over these fifteen years, both Viktor and Zula have changed a lot. They are completely different, they cannot be together, but apart, they always strive to be together. For some viewers, their decisions and actions at certain periods look strange and illogical, but for me the internal logic in the film was present quite clearly and there were no questions. Now we will not discuss this, so as not to spoil it for those who have not yet seen the film (and it must be seen), so we will discuss the plot twists below in the postscript to the review.

The behavior of the characters is quite natural and not far-fetched, and, in addition, there are clearly some elements from the life of Pawlikowski’s parents, whose names the main characters are named: Pavel’s parents, together with their child, fled from socialist Poland to Great Britain in 1971.

Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig (by the way, she played an episodic role in Ida) played their characters wonderfully. Victor is melancholic, slightly aloof, but not alien to passions. Zula is explosive, very temperamental and independent. There are couples who cannot live without each other and at the same time cannot be with each other – such a self-destructive love that does not lead to anything good. And here is socialist Poland, the secret services, a kind of little world of bohemian Paris of those times: all sorts of passions are happening in the world, and all sorts of passions are seething among the two main characters.

And the Cold War (that’s what the picture is called in the original) – it’s not about the confrontation between two superpowers, it’s about the confrontation between Viktor and Zula.

Pavel Pawlikowski is a director with a very bright and original author’s style. He tells this story very coldly and, as it were, detached, which is also facilitated by the black-and-white gamma and brilliant camera work, but inside the story, emotions simply go off scale: they can leave few people indifferent.

Great movie, I’m glad I didn’t miss it! The director received the Palme d’Or at Cannes for it.

It is also very desirable to watch the film in good quality, because the picture there is amazing, despite the fact that it is black and white.


PS And now let’s talk about some plot twists – for those who have already seen the picture. For those who haven’t watched it, go right here.

Why Zula didn’t run away with Victor, she herself clearly explained. She was not sure that they would be able to live together, and in a foreign country, without education and with only one Polish, she simply would not have survived.

But she wanted to return to him, so she learned French, ran out to marry the first foreigner she came across in order to be able to leave Poland, and came to Victor in Paris. There he took up her career as a singer and began to put her under the music producer, on whom everything depended. Zula did not like this Parisian life at all, and she returned to Poland, where Viktor, as an escapee, had no access. Here many viewers have a question: why didn’t she stay in Paris? So what would she do in Paris? She did not want to build a career as a singer the way it would have worked in Paris. In addition, she had to escape from Viktor – Poland was one hundred percent suitable for this.

Why did Viktor return to Poland, knowing that he would be imprisoned immediately, and for a long time? Well, apparently, he could not help it, he was drawn to her. Here he returned. And, to be honest, his life in Paris was rather bleak. Labal on the piano in a provincial tavern for a penny.

Why did Zula marry the party member Kachmarek? Only for him to get Victor out of prison: it was directly stated that this was a clear condition.

So why such an ending? What else were they supposed to do? They could not live with each other. They could not live without each other. Everything is natural.

Cold War / Zimna wojna

Director: Pavel Pawlikowski Cast: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Boris Szyc, Agata Kulesha, Cedric Kahn, Zhanna Balibar, Adam Voronovich, Adam Ferenczi, Drazen Sivak, Slavko Sobin

Drama, Poland-France-UK, 2018, 88 min.

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