“Cold War”

Ultimately, The director Pawel Pawlikowski is a romantic who understands Poland. His  new film “Cold War” uses the metaphor of romantic, unrequited love to speak to the feelings Polish nationals may feel toward the emigre, who leaves. The film is dedicated to his Polish parents.

Pawlikowski uses the same award-winning cinematographer, the thirty-seven-year-old Lukasz Zal,~the same artist he collaborated with in his glorious “Ida” ( reviewed Feb. 15, 2015) . “ Cold War” is filmed even more beautifully.  Both works are in black and white. “Cold War” ‘s cinematography is  less gradient, bolder and in more contrast than the grayer “Ida”. Some frames outline glossy, dark bodies with intense light only inches in diameter. Auras outline more than illuminate. Cold and dark seep into our bones the same way the Cold War did.

Somehow, Europe’s decades seem to mesh together more than our American ones. Maybe this is because their historical past is longer, and they know better than to force ten years of delineated time into a topped jar. Then again, as the film’s poetress, Juliette, explains, “Time does not matter when you are in love.”

“ Cold War” ’s chronology takes us from 1949 to 1951, then to 1954, 1955, 1957, 1959, and back to 1952 and then to 1964 ~approximately 15 years from the start where we initially hear drinking songs and see snow keeping the ground frozen. Music , as well as time, threads its way through the tale. We begin with horrid rehearsals of bagpipes and folk songs fiddled. Discordant sweeps of voices and accordion squeezes open a structure of recitals to train and audition hopeful talent. Our male lead is the orchestra’s maestro and pianist and our emigre.

His name is Wiktor, and he is an amalgam of practicality, obsession, and existential angst, and narcissism.   Tomasz Kot plays Wiktor with raw emotion and patient waiting. His desire is for the gutsy and spirited survivor of incest with patricide heavy on her soul. Enter Zula. She is lovely, talented, and given a few years~smoldering.

Johanna Kulig is the Polish actress who embodies our Zula. Get ready for a visage as fresh as Jennifer Lawrence with the pillowy lips of Liv Ullmann. At first playful and gutsy, with memorable scenes of pond floating and folk dancing, she turns sultry and jealous, and then fatefully romantic~ remiscent of  Truffaut heroine in “ Adele H”.

Zula and Wiktor’s relationship is on again/off again . He writes lyrics,: she is his chanteuse. They record an album, and he dubs it “our first child”. She tosses it on the street and calls it “a bastard”. Zula marries an Italian, has a baby, does nightclub gigs. We zoom through major cities: Warsaw, Paris, Zagreb, Berlin. Wiktor seeks her out. ” Is My Baby Still My Baby?” is heard.

Wiktor is taunted by communist agents. ” You did not love Poland. You left her.” Bluesy Billy Holliday is in our ears. Zula finds Wiktor imprisoned in a containment camp where he is accused of being a spy. Lots happens in the film’s 88 minutes.

Ultimately, Zula both plans  their marriage, one that counts,  and their earthly demise. The rituals and images are incorporated :candles, the sign of the cross, images of Christ’s eyes. At one point Zula asks, “What have we done? Practical viewers will tell these lovers  that it did not have to be this way. Romantics will sigh, “ Oh, yes”.

“Vice”

The message is clear. The American people were hooked when Vice-President Dick Cheney took over as the most powerful VP in American history. This cynical and humorous bio-pic never loses sight of this truth. And the truth is told in the most creative ways by incredible actors.

Christian Bale has Cheney’s stare and smirk down! Add the heavy gold watch on that thick wrist that can flick and cast, and we have our metaphor for power. Beware of the quiet man. He watches, waits, and then strikes. Give that man (no matter that he was kicked out of Yale for drinking and fighting) an ambitious wife, Lynne Cheney ( Amy Adams) and we have the MacBeths. One of my favorite scenes being their Shakespearean bed plotting. Adams, too, is brilliant. As a take-charge-goal-setter, Adams lights up the screen, even as her old family demons keep her fighting for control.

A cast never looked more like the people they are portraying. Steve Carell as the crude talking Donald Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell as the clueless George W. Bush, and Tyler Perry as Colin Power, and LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleeza Rice will impress. But more impressive than the acting and the physical appointments is writer Adam McKay. Half National Lampoon satire and half Michael Moore diatribe, this film is heaven for liberals about the hell of our political scene.

McKay uses a catchy format of narration. Midway through the film, we intuit that the young man speaking is Cheney’s heart donor. Bogus credits roll after a half hour, and we wish this was the end of our story. In Michael Moore fashion, this film asks Americans if they were sleeping or just working such long hours that we chose not to think about our government. Yet, Cheney is portrayed as a ghost~a powerful one.

A dark comedy, “Vice” shows Cheney working as an intern for Illinois Congressman Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld tells Cheney that two DUIs came up on his clearance papers: “ I took care of it. You owe me.” As Rumsfeld’s lackey , Cheney becomes a servant to power as Rumsfeld rises to serve in the Nixon White House, becomes Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford ( 1975-77) and under George W. Bush ( 2001-06).

In one sequence, Cheney tells his daughter that if you have power, people will try to take it away from you. Much is made in the film about Cheney’s championing of Unitary Executive Theory. In its most extreme form, Congress and the Federal Courts can not touch the President. Others argue that Commander-in-Chief refers to military and National Security matters only. McKay shows the Cheneys as power bandits.

Through the use of conservative think tanks, the repeal of balanced reporting laws, and pundits like Rush Limbaugh, McKay ferrets us through the history of the rise of the Right. When a snippet of Ronald Reagan’s speech “ Let’s make America great, again” we are meant to wince. Like in McKay’s film “The Big Short” ( reviewed here Dec. 20, 2015) he ferrets out the money trail to Halliburton and Cheney’s CEO connections and the resulting 500% increase in the corporation’s stock.

”Vice”’s visuals are stunningly clever. I loved the stack of unwieldy porcelain cups and saucers ready to topple. The tasseled loafers, the way Cheney buttons his jacket, his saunter with briefcase under his arm, all mesh with power and the horrible history of 9/11, the Iraq War, the take down of Saddam Hussein, and the rise of his replacement, ISIS. In one memorable scene, we see Alfred Molina as a waiter serving up entrees of torture to Dick and his guests. The Guantanamo archive back-up is deactivated and Cheney says ” clean to work.”

The ending song from “West Side Story” with its lyrics ” I like to be in America, Okay by me in America” follows Dick Cheney speaking to the camera: ” I will not apologize for keeping your family safe.” There are no heroes in this film, only ruthless power brokers and a nod to Cheney’s public acceptance of his daughter’s lesbianism. Incriminations reign and it is hard to be entertained by them. “Vice” is about vice.