Cold War

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Cold War Movie Poster Image
Brief nudity, language in romantic, mature Polish drama.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Though main characters' irresistible love is at movie's center, iffy decisions, poor behavior along the way mean it's not a redemptive fable. It's too realistic, honest for that.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main characters make questionable decisions, don't behave well at times, but they're passionate artists in love. Film doesn't try to hold them up as role models, depicts them as specific people with specific flaws and strengths.


One character slaps another during argument. A woman tells the story of almost being raped by her father, defending herself (nothing shown). A character is apparently subjected to torture -- or at least such hard labor that he's seriously injured (not shown).


A couple of sex scenes, one that includes a brief, faraway glimpse of topless woman. A nude woman in bed is barged in on. Sex hangs over proceedings in general.


In Polish with English subtitles. Occasional use of "f--k." Also "wanker."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink at Parisian bars and at parties, sometimes to excess. What are likely sleeping pills are abused.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Cold War is a mature, Polish-language look at a romance sabotaged by the East-West split of Europe after World War II -- and by the temperaments of the people involved. Expect brief female nudity and consistent sexual themes, as well as some drinking to excess and sleeping pill abuse. Language (in subtitles) includes a few uses of "f--k." Characters argue, one slaps another, one is seriously injured offscreen, and a woman tells the story of almost being raped by her father and defending herself. Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig star as, respectively, a respected musical director and a performer in his state-run troupe who fall in love and contemplate escaping the Eastern Bloc for an uncertain life in Paris.

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What's the story?

COLD WAR is set in post-WWII Poland, where respected musical director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig), a performer in his state-run troupe, fall in love and contemplate escaping the Eastern Bloc for an uncertain life in Paris. Their relationship takes many turns over the years and across multiple countries, complicated by the extreme differences in their temperaments.

Is it any good?

For a black-and-white film with such an unsparing, unsentimental approach, this romance manages to feel lush, passionate, and stark all at once. Cold War draws its power from the authentic-feeling mistakes its main characters make. The characters and their story were (very) loosely inspired by director/co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski's parents, so perhaps it's from there that the ring of truth comes. Wiktor and Zula have their chances, it seems, and they clearly see each other as the love of each other's lives. They have the significant obstacle of the actual Cold War between them, but the greatest impediment turns out to be themselves. That they want to be together, need to be together, but can't work it out even when it's possible will feel familiar to most adult viewers. But unlike, say, La La Land (another romance about artists driven apart), Cold War sells the audience on how much the protagonists mean to each other. It's no romantic fantasy. It's smudged by inconvenient and sometimes ugly reality. That they can't stay together really feels like a tragedy -- but a familiar one.

The excellent cinematography is supple -- austere when it needs to be and richly detailed, even within cold and stark environments, when it wants to be. It embraces the romantic luster of Paris without resorting to cliché. Music also illuminates the experience, from Polish folk musicians in village streets to jazz combos in Paris nightclubs. One song repeats several times, changing its arrangement and sophistication (and even language) as the couple does. As Wiktor, Kot is sympathetic as a passionate man blown about by circumstance. As Zula, Kulig smolders. She's hot, she's cold, she's unpredictable, she's unpredictably sincere. In Cold War, Pawlikowski masterfully marshals cinematic tools to craft an indelible kind of valentine to a key chapter in his family history.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Cold War portrays life on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Is this like other films you've seen about the period and location? If not, how did it feel different? 

  • Why do you think the characters' relationship didn't work out while they had a chance in Paris?

  • What tools did the filmmakers use to convey the passage of time and change in locations? Were they effective? Did you feel the changes, the different times and places?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance

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