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Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot

“COLD WAR” My rating: A-

88 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“She’s got something,” observes a Parisian roue after taking in an eyeful and earful of Zula, the troubled heroine of “Cold War.”

No kidding.  As portrayed by Joanna Kulig, Zula radiates slow-smoldering eroticism and more than a hint of working-class voluptuousness. It’s easy to understand how a man — even a sophisticated one — could endure a long search through time and space to be with her.

“Cold War” — an Oscar nominee for foreign language film, director and cinematography — comes to us from Pawel Pawlikowski, who a couple of years back delivered the Academy Award-winning foreign film “Ida,”  about a young nun who discovers she is the child of Holocaust victims.

Like that earlier masterpiece, “Cold War” unfolds during Poland’s decades as a Soviet satellite state and has been shot in mind-blowingly beautiful black and white.

Pawlikowski’s subject is a passionate love affair played out against  the political and social fluctuations of life on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Reportedly he was inspired by the story of his own parents, who maintained an on-and-off relationship for more than 40 years.

Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is a musical scholar traveling post-war Poland to  record rural folk songs.  That obsession leads to a job as artistic director of a state-sponsored school devoted to the preservation of traditional Polish culture. Hordes of desperate young people audition for the program; among them is Zula (Kulig), who initially doesn’t stand out against all the other healthy blondes hoping for a spot.

But Zula is clever and manipulative; she immediate gloms onto a girl with a terrific voice and suggests they sing a duet. The other girl’s talent will mask Zula’s limited abilities while giving Zula’s impressive “it” factor a chance to kick in.

Indeed, before long Zula is one of the company’s featured performers. There are better singers and dancers,  but none can match Zula’s understated yet always-ready sexuality. She even comes with a  back story about having done time for murdering the father who molested her.

In no time at all Zula is sleeping with Wiktor, who is twice her age and earning a national reputation for his beautifully-staged concerts of traditional song and dance.  But the purist in him rebels when the authorities demand that the troupe perform newly-penned songs about land reform against a gigantic portrait of Josef Stalin; he lays a plan to defect with Zula  on a tour stop in East Berlin.

When Zula fails to show up for their rendezvous at a checkpoint between East and West Berlin (this is a decade before the construction of the notorious wall) a disappointed Wiktor goes it alone.

But the paths of these two star-crossed lovers will intersect repeatedly over the years.

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‘Bridge of Spies’ by DreamWorks Studios.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” My rating: B+

142 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

 

Tom Hanks’ singular status as this century’s James Stewart pays off big time in “Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg’s recreation of one of the Cold War’s lesser known stories.

As the real-life James Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer pulled into the world of espionage and international intrigue, Hanks is wry, moving, and astonishingly ethical. He practically oozes bedrock American decency.

Which was precisely what this movie needs.

The screenplay by the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman runs simultaneously on four tracks.

In the first Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested in NYC in 1957 by federal agents. As no lawyer wants to represent him, the Bar Association basically plays spin the bottle — and assigns the job to Donovan.

Jim Donovan believes that every accused person deserves the best defense possible. In fact, he alienates the judge, the feds, and the general public by standing up for his client’s rights and assuming that this is going to be a fair trial when everybody else wants just to go through the motions before sentencing Abel to death.

On a parallel track is the story of Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a military flyboy recruited for a top-secret project and trained to spy on the U.S.S.R. from a one-man U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.  Alas, on his very first mission in 1960 he’s shot down, fails in an attempt to commit suicide, and falls into the hands of the Commies.

Then there’s the arrest in 1961 of Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American grad student studying economics who finds himself trapped on the wrong side of the newly constructed Berlin Wall and vanishes into the labyrinthine East German justice system.

All this comes to a head when Donovan, several years after Abel’s conviction, is dispatched to Berlin in an ex officio capacity to arrange a swap of the Soviet spy for Francis Gary Powers.  And if in the process he can somehow free Fred Pryor from a damp cell, so much the better.

The yarn is so big and dramatic that it seems improbable…yet it happened. (What’s more, a few years later Donovan was dispatched to Cuba to negotiate the release of anti-Communists captured in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.)

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