1005 Cold War

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TMDaines
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1005 Cold War

#1 Post by TMDaines » Sat Sep 08, 2018 12:47 pm

Cold War

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This sweeping, delirious romance begins in the Polish countryside, where Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a musician on a state-sponsored mission to collect folk songs, discovers a captivating young singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig, in a performance for the ages). Over the next fifteen years, their turbulent relationship will play out in stolen moments between two worlds: the jazz clubs of decadent bohemian Paris, to which he defects, and the corrupt, repressive Communist Bloc, where she remains—universes bridged by their passion for music and for each other. Photographed in luscious monochrome and suffused with the melancholy of the simple folk song that provides a motif for the couple's fateful affair, Paweł Pawlikowski's timeless story—inspired by that of his own parents—is a heart-stoppingly grand vision of star-crossed love caught up in the tide of history.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

• New 4K digital master, supervised and approved by director Paweł Pawlikowski and director of photography Łukasz Żal, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• New conversation between Pawlikowski and filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñàrritu
• Press conference featuring Pawlikowski and Żal; actors Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, and Borys Szyc; and producer Ewa Puszczynska
• Documentaries from 2018 on the making of the film
• Trailer
• New English subtitle translation
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Stephanie Zacharek

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#2 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Oct 22, 2018 10:53 am

TMDaines wrote:
Sat Sep 08, 2018 12:47 pm
Cold War was real good. Refreshingly, leanly edited. Gorgeously shot. A couple of great central performances, especially from Joanna Kulig. Paweł Pawlikowski has got his newly found style of filmmaking down to a tee.
This was indeed pretty wonderful. Few actresses are shot as lovingly as Joanna Kulig is here, and despite some questionable character motivations here and there, it's all too beautifully melancholic to get too worked up over. A stunning exploration of the ways that a political climate can influence one's own sensibilities even if they aren't personally aligned with said climate. Timely stuff, and have I mentioned that it's gorgeous? It's gorgeous.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#3 Post by MichaelB » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:09 am

I accidentally saw it without English subtitles first time round, thanks to a mislabelled screening at the Gdynia Film Festival - but I thought I might as well stick with it.

I caught it with subtitles a few days later, and I honestly think I got about 90% of it first time round: it's so visually eloquent that the dialogue almost doesn't matter.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#4 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:05 pm

Caught this at the NYFF. Like Ida, it's a stunning reminder of what can be done in black & white and not in color.

Much of the film plays like a photo exhibit. The shots are so rich and meticulously composed, their visual power is self-contained - it rarely comes from the way any particular shot is played off another one. (To be fair, there's one key scene that hinges on cross-cutting, and a scene near the end that recalls an earlier one.) As soon as one shot begins, the composition usually holds until the next one, so even when people are moving (or even dancing) through the frame, the aesthetic evokes still photography. There are a few slight departures from this approach, and the most notable one comes with the final shot - it's a very moving ending, and it would have been far less powerful had the film's rigorous aesthetic been loosened up even further.

And once again there are moments where Pawlikowski is framing his characters at the bottom of the screen (sometimes in the bottom third), using a flattened composition that fills the space above them with a dense amount of detail (or in a few cases, virtually a complete absence of detail). In these shots, the characters always face the camera, as if their backs are to everything else - there's one shot where he places a pair in front of a large mirror, and for a moment you get the illusion that what they're seeing is happening behind them. It's a striking effect that isolates his characters while burdening their figures with the world around them.

Spotted Noah Baumbach at the screening with George Drakoulias, which is pretty cool - Drakoulias does a lot of work as a music supervisor now, and I wonder what he thought of the soundtrack, because it runs the gamut between Polish folk, jazz, pop and even early rock & roll, and yet none of it ever feels forced, jarring or thrown together, it all feels very organic and all of apiece to the film. There's no big and obvious statements being made through the music either, what the music has to say is simply inherent and the music is never thrown at you, it just simply is.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#5 Post by MichaelB » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:10 pm

I wrote this after I saw it the second time:
I had to see this twice in the space of a week because thanks to a labelling cock-up I inadvertently saw it without subtitles (or rather, in unsubtitled Polish, with non-Polish parts only being subtitled in Polish) first time round. But what was fascinating about catching up with an English-friendly version a few days later is how little difference it made: Cold War is so visually and musically eloquent from first frame to last that it almost doesn’t matter what the characters are saying to each other – and much of the time you can glean a pretty good idea from body language and vocal tone.

This is only Paweł Pawlikowski’s second feature in his native country and language (after 2013’s Oscar-winning Ida), which heralded a remarkably effective change in his style. His previous films – all British aside from 2011’s Paris-set French co-production The Woman in the Fifth – had all been in colour and although he often favoured a slow, contemplative approach, he tended to avoid overtly arty compositions. For instance, you could show, say, Last Resort (2000) or My Summer of Love (2004) on a mainstream terrestrial television channel at peaktime without raising too many eyebrows, and all of Pawlikowski’s work before then was made for the BBC in the first place.

But Ida and Cold War were both shot in black-and-white Academy ratio, with every single shot immaculately arranged and lit to the point where almost any random freezeframe could be enlarged for a gallery wall (Łukasz Żal was the cinematographer in both cases). It would almost seem parodically “arthouse” were it not for Pawlikowski’s steely control of the material in general and its eddying emotional undercurrents in particular. And it also rapidly becomes clear that the choice of monochrome and boxy framing is an integral part of the overall effect, both harking back to the glory days of 1950s Polish cinema (when the likes of Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Kawalerowicz were first spreading their creative wings) while also creating an intentionally claustrophobic effect, as though the aesthetics of the period were encroaching on the characters’ burning desire for freedom. Much like Borges’ Pierre Menard and his rewrite of Don Quixote that’s textually identical to but contextually wholly different from Cervantes’ original, Pawlikowski uses a form that was all but universal in pre-1950s cinema in a way that now feels thrillingly alien.

Set largely in Poland and France (with brief detours to East Germany and Yugoslavia), Cold War spans 1949-64, and initially concerns attempts by pianist-conductor Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and manager Irena (Agata Kulesza, who was also in Ida) to put together the most authentic eastern European folk-music troupe that they can muster. During the audition process, they discover the exceptional talent of Zula (Joanna Kulig, who was in The Woman in the Fifth) – and, to nobody’s surprise, Wiktor falls head over heels for her. So far so conventionally melodramatic, but one of the reasons why Cold War has such a brisk running time of 86 minutes (which is long for Pawlikowski: his five features to date average 82) is that he’s constantly inviting us to read between the lines, jumping years at a time while offering only wisps of information to let us fill in the gaps, compressing entire family tragedies into laconic lines like “[My father] mistook me for my mother, so I used a knife to show him the difference”. The tragic final sequence, which could have been spun out for ten or twenty minutes in other hands, is a masterpiece of Bressonian essentialism: consisting of just half a dozen or so comparatively brief shots, mostly long and medium shots (the better to foreground a crucial close-up), we’re told everything that we need to know against backdrops of breathtaking beauty – a tree in an otherwise empty field, a ruined chapel – but each shot cuts at the precise point that it’s fulfilled its function.

If I’m honest, the first half is stronger than much of the second: the constant fearful navigation of Stalinist cultural policies while trying to maintain artistic integrity is inherently a more interesting (and suspenseful) topic than a rather too familiar story of people falling in and out of love in Paris, however ravishingly shot. But the music throughout offers ample compensation (this is one of many reasons why I stayed the course with the unsubtitled version), in particular a series of complex variations on a haunting folktune that are presented as a solo audition piece, a full-blown choral spectacular, a smoky jazz number and much else besides. I’ve rarely seen a film since Wong Kar-wai’s often equally riveting In the Mood for Love that feels more like the most exquisitely calibrated piece of chamber music than a narrative experience. In fact, the artist I’m most inclined to compare Pawlikowski with right now (at least in terms of their shared ability to cram entire universes into small-scale forms) isn’t a filmmaker at all: is it any coincidence that at a comparatively early stage in the film Wiktor is overheard playing Chopin?

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#6 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jan 31, 2019 7:51 pm

I finally saw this. Somewhat mixed feelings. I loved the cinematography and music -- and thought the first part (in Poland) was wonderful. But I never for a moment found any convincing trace of strong and genuine love between the two main characters. So most of their actions as the film progressed seemed arbitrary. So, glad I saw this -- but no prize contender for me.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#7 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jan 31, 2019 7:55 pm

The elliptical structure of the film means we only see the bare minimum, so you kinda have to suss it out from their behaviors and actions more than the fleeting moments of intimacy allowed by the narrative, but given the two are continuously drawn back to each other despite the circumstances working against them (not to mention the ending), I think the depth of their love was fully apparent throughout

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#8 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jan 31, 2019 8:09 pm

My wife thinks this -- but I can't help thinking of stuff by Naruse (Floating Clouds, for instance) and Mizoguchi -- and find this not even close to the same level of convincingness. ;-) (My problem - sigh)

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#9 Post by zedz » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:43 pm

I'm in the same boat. I thought the film was beautifully made, but never got any sense of chemistry between the leads, and without that I could never buy l'amour fou as the engine of the narrative.

Domino's argument almost seems almost like the same idea seen through the other end of the telescope: they must have chemistry or else the plot doesn't work.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#10 Post by Brian C » Thu Jan 31, 2019 11:39 pm

I feel like the narrative works either way. Maybe they’re truly, passionately in love. Or maybe they’re dissatisfied with their lots and the idea of being in love with each other holds sway over them. In fact, maybe the latter is even more affecting to me.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#11 Post by furbicide » Fri Feb 01, 2019 6:31 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Thu Jan 31, 2019 7:51 pm
I finally saw this. Somewhat mixed feelings. I loved the cinematography and music -- and thought the first part (in Poland) was wonderful. But I never for a moment found any convincing trace of strong and genuine love between the two main characters. So most of their actions as the film progressed seemed arbitrary. So, glad I saw this -- but no prize contender for me.
I felt the same, but I'd go further – I didn't feel like there was really much to the characters at all. What do we really get from them apart from the archetypes that they fill (wilder/more volatile manic-pixie-dreamgirl + tortured artist)? I just didn't care about them one bit, and felt that the film gave us no space to emotionally engage with them at all. Instead, we're left with little more than narrative skeleton, with a badly misjudged and unearned ending. An impeccably shot and scored skeleton, but a skeleton nonetheless.

I've seen a few Pawlikowski films now, and I honestly don't get what people see in him. Ida was okay (had its moments, but nothing special), but the others – My Summer of Love, The Woman in the Fifth and Cold War – just felt really mediocre to me, in the same kind of realm of serviceable but forgettable arthouse cinema that François Ozon or, say, Anne Fontaine have always dwelt in.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#12 Post by MichaelB » Fri Feb 01, 2019 6:54 am

furbicide wrote:
Fri Feb 01, 2019 6:31 am
I've seen a few Pawlikowski films now, and I honestly don't get what people see in him.
I got plenty out of Cold War even without subtitles!

But at the very least watch the documentaries before dismissing him totally: when he worked for the BBC at the turn of the 1990s, nobody was making films even remotely like his. He managed to carve himself a niche in the BBC's Bookmark strand, which meant that his films had to be at least tenuously about literary matters, but thankfully he had a sympathetic producer who could see that something like Dostoevsky's Travels (1991) might be hugely valuable even if it had nothing to say about Fyodor of that ilk. (It's actually about the writer's great-grandson Dmitri and his attempts to cash in on his ancestor's fame at a time when the Communist world is collapsing all around him.)

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#13 Post by BenoitRouilly » Fri Feb 01, 2019 8:32 am

The cinematography is remarkable. The elliptical scenario is an interesting narrative device.
This impossible couple was inspired by Pawlikowski's own parents, who died in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The troupe they form at the beginning of the film is inspired by a real life troupe that toured around the Soviet states called "Mazowsze".
I was thinking a lot of Philip Kaufman "Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988) from the Milan Kundera Book of the same name. Because the lead couple also falls in and out of love, cross borders during the Iron Curtain, visit Paris and Switzerland...

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#14 Post by furbicide » Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:10 am

Thanks Michael, I’ll keep an eye out for those documentaries. It does happen sometimes that I finally get into a director on the fourth or fifth go (Volker Schlondorff’s Baal and Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer had this effect on me, long after I’d pretty much given up on ever liking either director). Sometimes it’s the earlier, less polished work that’s more compelling.

Benoit, that’s interesting about Pawlikowski basing the characters on his parents. Maybe this lack of distance affected his portrayal of them, in that he took too much of the emotional resonance that the story had for him as given and didn’t do enough work to actually convey that? (It’s interesting you bring up The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by the way – another film that left me cold and seemed too wedded to its narrative framework.)

I’d hate to think that my reservations are all about a matter of running time – I like the idea of condensing an expansive narrative into a brisk running time. Maybe if he’d let go of a bit of the story structure and melodramatic arc, and just left us instead with disconnected, intimate vignettes about the characters at different times and in different countries, the film would have appealed to me more.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#15 Post by knives » Fri Feb 01, 2019 11:54 am

His shorts all have legal free streaming and are indeed wonderful.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#16 Post by nitin » Fri Feb 01, 2019 9:30 pm

I think it’s pretty reeudctive to call Kulig’s work here ‘manic pixie dream girl’. It has ‘some’ elements of that trope, and maybe her character as written embodies more, but her performance has much more depth.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#17 Post by furbicide » Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:11 am

I have nothing against her as a performer (she does well enough with the limited material), but I really don’t think there’s much more you can say about the character – whether or not she perfectly fits the trope, I never felt that she left (or sketched out more than) the boundaries of her basic character description.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#18 Post by nitin » Sat Feb 02, 2019 6:27 am

Fair enough, I think there is substantially more depth there but I can appreciate that you may not have felt that way.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#19 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Feb 02, 2019 10:11 am

I felt the character was sullen too often to be called a manic pixie dream girl ;-)

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#20 Post by zedz » Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:52 pm

Depressive pixie dream girl?

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#21 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:57 pm

Kulig is a beautiful woman, but it's hard for me to imagine anyone fantasizing about her character here in the way the MPDG trope functions. "This is what I want, a woman who will repeatedly leave me for other men, many of whom are acquaintances of mine," said no one outside of a subsection of PornHub original content creators

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#22 Post by Roger Ryan » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:38 am

Brian C wrote:
Thu Jan 31, 2019 11:39 pm
...Or maybe they’re dissatisfied with their lots and the idea of being in love with each other holds sway over them. In fact, maybe the latter is even more affecting to me.
This interpretation seems closer to how I felt about the film as well. The idyllic early romance appears wedded to a purity found in the native folk songs (although, ironically, Zula doesn't appear to actually know any folk songs, only a song she remembered hearing in a Russian film), but as that folk music is appropriated and re-contextualized (first by the communist authorities and then later by a pretentious French translation with a jazz arrangement), the relationship sours. Once the two leads are together in Paris, we are only shown various degrees of animosity with all of the decisions presumably made in the name of true love ultimately revealed as self-destructive. The faux-Mexican kitsch performance near the end shows the perversion of the folk music at its most crass (Zula even vomits after performing). The final scene returns to the same location seen near the film's beginning when Wiktor, Irena, and Kaczmarek had first started doing field recordings of the native folk songs. That Wiktor and Zula choose this location for their pact seems like attempt to return to a lost idyll, but the choice seems delusional. Perhaps Kaczmarek urinating on this sacred ground (as shown in the early scene) has cursed the land and the couple who are doomed to chase after a love that was never true.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#23 Post by MichaelB » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:41 am

I completely agree with this take, and I suspect this is where watching the film without subtitles for the first time put me at a definite advantage, because of necessity I had to tune out the dialogue and focus much more on the musical content.

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#24 Post by furbicide » Tue Feb 05, 2019 7:22 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:57 pm
Kulig is a beautiful woman, but it's hard for me to imagine anyone fantasizing about her character here in the way the MPDG trope functions. "This is what I want, a woman who will repeatedly leave me for other men, many of whom are acquaintances of mine," said no one outside of a subsection of PornHub original content creators
Yeah, I have to admit I'm hesitant about my original MPDG diagnosis, but the trope of the sexy/unpredictable/"crazy" object of desire that Zula embodies (think Betty Blue) isn't exactly worlds away from the MPDG archetype. If I may quote from that erudite academic source tvtropes.com:

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/ ... eDreamGirl
Let's say you're a soulful, brooding male hero, living a sheltered, emotionless existence. If only someone could come along and open your heart to the great, wondrous adventure of life...

Have no fear, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is here to give new meaning to the male hero's life! She's stunningly attractive, energetic, high on life, full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasies (generally including childlike playfulness), often with a touch of wild hair dye. She's inexplicably obsessed with our stuffed-shirt hero, on whom she will focus her kuh-razy antics until he learns to live freely and love madly.
If Zula (and, for that matter, Wiktor in the opposing role) doesn't tick all of those boxes, then I think there are enough dinging bells there for the accusation to be defensible.

(For what it's worth, Betty Blue is listed as an example of this trope, albeit a deconstructed version because she's actually shown to be seriously mentally ill. For what it's worth, I don't think that gets the film off the hook, because the film is still selling a heterosexual male fantasy without giving her much in the way of agency or backstory. Still liked it better than Cold War, though!)

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Re: Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)

#25 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Feb 05, 2019 8:52 pm

furbicide wrote:
Tue Feb 05, 2019 7:22 pm
domino harvey wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:57 pm
Kulig is a beautiful woman, but it's hard for me to imagine anyone fantasizing about her character here in the way the MPDG trope functions. "This is what I want, a woman who will repeatedly leave me for other men, many of whom are acquaintances of mine," said no one outside of a subsection of PornHub original content creators
Yeah, I have to admit I'm hesitant about my original MPDG diagnosis, but the trope of the sexy/unpredictable/"crazy" object of desire that Zula embodies (think Betty Blue) isn't exactly worlds away from the MPDG archetype. If I may quote from that erudite academic source tvtropes.com:

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/ ... eDreamGirl
Let's say you're a soulful, brooding male hero, living a sheltered, emotionless existence. If only someone could come along and open your heart to the great, wondrous adventure of life...

Have no fear, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is here to give new meaning to the male hero's life! She's stunningly attractive, energetic, high on life, full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasies (generally including childlike playfulness), often with a touch of wild hair dye. She's inexplicably obsessed with our stuffed-shirt hero, on whom she will focus her kuh-razy antics until he learns to live freely and love madly.
If Zula (and, for that matter, Wiktor in the opposing role) doesn't tick all of those boxes, then I think there are enough dinging bells there for the accusation to be defensible.
An object lesson in how movies can't be reduced to boxes on a checklist. You can mangle all sorts of movies out of shape for their superficial correspondences.

The manic pixie dream girl is a narrative device for male redemption, taking some lifeless, emotionless husk going through the motions and inspiring him to engage in life again. This is why it's derided: it's a dream figure of beauty, magic, and vitality who exists to redeem some male figure and imbue his life with meaning. It's the modern incarnation of a sprite, fairy, or other magic figure who helps redeem the hero.

Plainly none of that applies to Cold War. Neither of the pair are in a position to redeem the other. It's quite the opposite: they chase each other down the years hoping to fill some indefinable loss they've mistaken for each other. A country, culture, family, something is missing, and though their initial attraction offers a respite, it's overshadowed by politics. Zula isn't in a position to give herself totally to him because just being there forces her to compromise the relationship, to be an informer. Each subsequent meeting is a push-pull between desire and unfulfillment, bringing them together bodily, but further separating them culturally, musically, even linguistically. The very language of their love is replaced, ironically with the language of love. Zula's final line of dialogue expresses the hope that the view will be better over the next border they cross. The couple have spent the whole movie crossing various borders, real or metaphorical, hoping for just such fulfillment. We can't know if they find it over the next one.

This is not a manic pixie dream girl situation. This is not a redemption narrative. It's a melancholy situation of two people searching for a fulfillment they never quite find. Indeed, there's even the suggestion that Wiktor has fallen in love with a dream of his own making: the pure, idyllic, prelapsarian slavic beauty, a vision of innocence right off the mountains. Zula is not this: she's not rural, she knows modern entertainment better than folk art, she doesn't possess the "pure" voice of the other girl, she's shadowed by a dark history of sexuality and violence, she's politically compromised, etc. The movie even hints that this slavic dream girl is a cultural myth when Kaczmarek suggests dolling up one of the actual rural women to make her fit a slavic peasant ideal that Zula, a modern city girl, more outwardly represents. A vision of Poland to sell abroad. All this Wiktor dismisses, maybe because he's desperate to preserve the original vision, maybe because deep down corruption draws him more than innocence, maybe both. Who's to say. But either way, his Zula is evidently not quite the real Zula, and this is a big difference from the manic pixie dream girl, who's defined by her total availability and the fact that she's a dream that's not undercut by a more prosaic reality.

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