film review: Cold War

Another evening, another trip to IFAL for a film. Last night’s selection was the much lauded Cold War, or as they have it in Spanish, Guerra Fria, or as it is in the original Polish, Zimna Wojna. How do they have it in French? Half the movie is set in Paris, and there the marquees must read Guerre Froide.

But maybe the French version has a different title. Today, as the Notre Dame cathedral was burning in a televised fury, I learned that Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the simpler Our Lady of Paris in French. There’s no denying the appeal of that ‘hunchback’ in the title, and other novels might benefit from it, too: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Hunchback. Or Portnoy’s Complaint: I’m a Hunchback.

Cold War’s protagonist has excellent posture, even while leaning against a building or sitting between two goons. He’s a master of physical economy, stooping only when his piano requires it or when his comparatively short lover comes by for a kiss. The director is economical, too—more than once I was left wondering what the couple’s passion would look like on full display. I had to imagine even a single button undone.

So while there was much to marvel at—the photography, arrestingly shot in a four-three ratio in a strict palette of black and white; the cultural details from multiple countries over three decades; the subtle performances that complement all of the above—I often wondered what the big rush was. Why can’t we linger?

One explanation might be that the director, eying an audience outside of Poland, wanted to remove obstacles for a wide release. What better way to get around the foreign film reputation of long, slow, and unintelligible than by making a film that’s relatively short, quick-moving, and easily read? The result is still a pleasure, but it feels like someone ate half my dinner.

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