Friday, August 3, 2018

MIFF Session 1: COLD WAR

Right, so you're in Poland just after WWII and you're driving around the farmlands recruiting young and beautiful peasant folk for a morale boosting song and dance review to tour the land and help the big rebuild. It's not the first audition but it's the only one that day that breaks though and it's given by a luminously beautiful girl who claims her song came from a Soviet musical. She also seems a touch too urban for the brief but love at first sight can find a way and does.

If anything the affair only fuels the passion on stage and the show is a strong success. It's not love that gets in the way it's the great overarching mediocrity of officialdom. How about a few songs on collectivised agriculture and maybe a reel or a ditty about Comrade Stalin might be thoughtful. The guy, Wiktor, plans an escape when the troupe play Berlin. He goes to the rendezvous and waits  while she steels herself at an afterparty and drinks through it. He drags himself through the pre-wall checkpoint and heads for Paris. He swings it up at jazz clubs and composes for horror movies while she high kicks it back home with the chorus from Stalin! The Musical. 

This fable of life decisions might be seven hues of dire if it weren't for the increasing complexity that renders each subsequent reunion of the lovers as they variously marry or shack up with the almost yous to hand. The song from the audition was a post war standard in Poland and plays as a plaintive motif of longing and regret throughout the film, surviving Soviet choruses, folky solos, slinky smoky jazz renditions or ad hoc a capellas. You might be reminded of Scorsese's criminally overlooked New York New York. The characters claim a famous song which serves as their own personal theme.

Pawel Pawilkowski who gave us the quietly powerful Ida shoots again in deep black and white, the near-square frame of academy ratio and gives us the sound in mono or damn near mono. Moments of official punishment or the world's torments that typified the time are entered but noticed rather than dwelt on. The focus is kept strongly on the two players and how their love endures through some difficult changes of character often enforced by the lovers themselves. While this might have collapsed into lightness the insistence on intimacy prevents this. The Cold War of the title is, of course, a personal one.

Just as Ida looked and behaved like it was made in the same post war era, coming across like an Eastern Bloc new wave, but expressed a sharp hindsight, Cold War wants us to walk around in the days of style and oppression but not to live there. He has something more timeless on his mind.  

Screening notes: The Regent is most welcome back to MIFF. The queue reached the Russell St intersection. I waited near the entrance until it was almost all in and happily found a front left row seat after everyone else had shuffled in. The screen did look a tad skewed but one advantage of 4:3 ratio is that this is far less a problem than it would be if the film had been in 'scope (I wonder if contemporary cinema seating schemes are still based on that ratio with some very recently designed cinemas have seats absurdly close to the screen but ridiculously far to either side). Audience was well behaved (though the odd shouter at the back had some issues of which I remain happily ignorant) but coughing was choral. An early precaution to pick up a hand sanitiser will continue to pay off. Good God, am I really that old now?

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