One within the discussion group commented, "No one coughed or began to talk or leave their chair when the film was over. Looking around, during the film, we were all riveted". The cinematic beauty of the film held us. The spare direction, for most of us, satisfied what was unsaid. But say we wanted so we went to the discussion.
This was a love story based in the time of the historic Cold War of 1945-1963. The relationship between the main characters, Wiktor and Zula included all the characteristics of a cold war: obsession, polarisation, propaganda, deception, and self-preservation. The microcosm between the tested two leads could be seen on their national, Polish, scale, trying to invent its identity.
Zula comes into Wiktor's life as a young girl auditioning for a role in the singing and dancing troop that will perform the songs of the people, what will become the official music of Poland. The music will be propaganda for which the female dance choreographer will not stand by. But Wiktor sees an opportunity when he hears the troop will perform in Berlin among other touring stops - a way to escape to the west. One in the discussion group noticed that Wiktor was pragmatic while his lover Zula was more idealistic. However it is Zula as this young non-peasant girl who infiltrates the group of singing auditioners with her own cunning and story which attracts Wiktor. After Wiktor defects to Paris without her (she chickens out and doesn't meet him at the rendezvous) she marries an Italian in order to travel to Paris and see Wiktor. She returns to Poland and this may very well be because she is idealistic, Polish in mind and spirit. There are some reminiscence here to the film The Unbearable Lightness of Being, based on Milan Kundera's novel.
The music develops along with the historical plot. We see a young peasant girl in her patched jumper early in the film singing Two Hearts, or Dwa serduszka, which is about unrequited love. We then see the song adapted to a symphonic stage performance for Polish Nationalism. Then we see Zula singing its jazz version in the Parisian club. This one song is in essence the subject of the film.
It is an axiom at RCC that audience numbers cannot be predicted, and this black and white film, not shot in widescreen format, in a foreign language to boot bears that out. An audience some 30% larger than usual packed in to watch not just the main film but the shorts. As usual the short films were selected to add spice to the discussion group as they were thematically related, but on this occasion the discussion group - perhaps 20 people strong - were satiated by discussing the main film alone.
A large audience and the biggest discussion group we’ve had for some time – Pawel Pawlikowski’s melancholy, romantic and stunningly filmed Cold War certainly got us talking.Very happily, we also welcomed some young people to the discussion.They found the film interesting and were sparked to find out more about the history of the Cold War.
Karen encouraged us to consider what Cold War meant to us – propaganda, suppression of truth, polarisation and deception were some ideas we shared.One member of the group shared his story of going behind the Iron Curtain in the early 1970s, remembering the bread queues and “feeling the oppression.”We then looked at this theme in the intense relationship between Wictor and Zula.Why could she not escape her past, leading her to leave freedom in Paris for her bleak Polish homeland?
We appreciated the fine black and white cinema cinematography with its boxy old-school ratio. This gave a sense of being trapped.One member of the group said that there was nothing spare in the filming and that the quietness of it “grips you.”“This feels like a place I’ve visited, a country in my mind,” he added.
A powerful part of the film was seeing the pure folk music and dance of the Polish people being subverted for political means. The unfurling of an image of Stalin on stage is a chilling moment.The song ‘Two Hearts’ starts off being sung by a peasant girl, is sung on stage in the Polish Mazurek production, is heard in Wiktor’s wild piano improvisation and is sung by Zula in a Parisian club, reflecting the path of the couple’s relationship. The highly choreographed Mazurek dance routines contrast with the freedom of jazz music in Paris and Zula’s wild dance in a nightclub to Rock Around the Clock.
We didn’t get round to discussing the shorts, which were on the theme of Challenging Relationships. Our main feature, described by Karen as “cinematically delicious” – provided plenty to talk about. The discussion group loved this film about these two ‘star-crossed lovers,’ based on the relationship of the director’s own parents.Looking forward to more deep discussions in 2020!