Ever had a romantic relationship that was just toxic?
You were drawn to each other, you tried to make a go of it, but you
just weren't good for each other. Something
about the chemistry between you that did not bring out the best in either
of you. And yet somehow the bad experiences don't outweigh the force of
the compelling attraction, and so you keep getting back together, hoping
for a different result. That's
the kind of relationship that is at the center of the Polish movie called
1949. Poland is part of
the Soviet bloc. The Communist
Party officials, wishing to attempt to inject some artistry into a bleak
culture, recruit some local Polish talent to sing folk songs, and perform
folk dances. One of their
recruits, Zula (Joanna Kulig), has a checkered past, but they select her
anyway, because of a fine singing voice, and a certain liveliness of
personality while performing. It
doesn't hurt that she's slim, blonde, and beautiful. She soon catches the
eye of the musical director, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), and they fall in love
with each other quickly and easily. The
little folk troupe is a big success, and soon they are touring all over
Poland. But the Party
officials begin to insist that they sing songs of tribute to the Party,
even in front of a huge poster of Stalin, who's now become kind of the
patron saint of an atheistic Communism.
The original leaders of the folk troupe are unhappy with what they
consider artistic compromise, but Wiktor is so enthralled with Zula he
hardly notices. The troupe is
even invited to perform in Berlin, their first international showcase.
Now the complications begin. Wiktor
is so in love with Zula that he wants to be run away with her, to defect
and make a new life for themselves. Zula
loves Wiktor, but is not so sure that she wants to step off a cliff like
that, figuratively speaking, with no solid ground under her feet.
So she fails to show up for the rendezvous.
Wiktor defects by himself, and becomes a piano player in a jazz
band, playing in a Paris nightclub. He
doesn't see Zula for several years, but can't quit thinking about her,
even though he's in a relationship now, with a successful French poet.
Then one evening Zula reappears.
She had met and married an Italian businessman, but mostly just to
be able to officially change her citizenship.
She still loved performing, and Wiktor is able to introduce her to
French musicians who are enamored with her velvety singing voice.
Soon she is performing on stage as a soloist, but there's something
that prevents her from being truly happy.
She feels she's lost her moorings, and begins drinking heavily.
She leaves Wiktor at the end of an inebriated argument, and again
they don't see each other for several years.
She thought she'd be happy returning to Poland, but she wasn't.
She thought she could return to the Party official who was so
interested in her before, and he would find her work, but she winds up
stumbling her way through ketchy American pop songs in a small club, until
finally Wiktor finds her again. But
by this time her love/hate relationship with him is magnified on both ends
of the spectrum. Wiktor knows he's got a tiger by the tail, but he can't
help himself. Any more than
she can not be who she is.
It's foreign language, with subtitles.
It's in black and white. It
reflects the bleakness of the time period, Poland as part of the
fast-crumbling Soviet bloc that would later disintegrate entirely.
And it features a love story that hardly involves “happily ever
after.” So “Cold War”
isn't for everybody. But
Oscar-winning Director Pawel Pawilkowski paints a lingering melancholy
mood that is vaguely unsettling, especially to the polyanna romanticists.