An Encounter with (fragments of) Cold War

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A scene at the end of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War: a cross-road in the countryside, fields bordered by forests. The landscape is interrupted by a tall, full bodied tree, shading a bench. Wiktor and Zuzanna are sat down, facing the crossroad. ‘Let’s go to the other side’, says Zuzanna. ‘The view will be better there.’

Cold War moves around the love story between a composer, Wiktor and a musician and dancer, Zuzanna: one flees Poland for Paris, the other choses to remain, though they navigate borders between east and west constantly in the film, shaped by shifting political regimes. Wiktor’s fleeing is partly prompted by his work with a folk troupe, Mazurek (based on the Mazowsze ensemble). The troupe’s work emerges from a process of gathering regional folk songs and adapting them, but becomes quickly appropriated by the Stanlist political mechanism as a means of supporting policies. Zuzanna is a performer in the troupe, a survivor of sexual abuse. They are both entranced by their work and its desires; they are split in how they manifest this desire in a western musical ecology of smoke filled jazz clubs and cinematic composition, and an eastern one of emergent capitalism and folk traditions torn between spectacle and locality.

‘The view will be better there.’

I was struck by Cold War for how it refuses to site a particular cultural politics; for how it aptly captures the dizzying enchantment and violence of culture and migration, swinging between east and west; for how fetishization, desire and identity are constantly wrapped in movements across borders, and the affective landscapes that shape precarious feelings of belonging. For how it exposes the continuity and huge disparity of political and affective regimes; for how it accounts for the gendered experience of movement. For how it refuses to romanticise the dizzying array of identifications that constantly cut across binaries (east, west; communism, capitalism; love, hate) — the confusions of lived experience, and the impossibility of its communication.

The poetics of Cold War encapsulate this experience of movement to and across, back and forth. They narrate an account of migration that is shaped as much through political regimes and need, as by identity and desire. The movie does not examine the choices Wiktor and Zuzanna make- what prompts their decisions to leave or stay, and the ways in which they do so; it describes them. In describing them, it gives weight to the invisible threads that make up belonging and care, and the impossible dissonance of political regimes that feel strangely common.

‘The view will be better there.’

The small gestures of attention that Cold War precipitates are around shifts that are often imperceptible: how you feel seen, differently; how a change in perception as a result of a move (or its rejection) reconfigures your lived experience; how this becomes increasingly incommunicable, and tethered to shifting sands. It is not, to me, romantic because it speaks of a love story, but because of these acts of attention towards the marginal landscapes of movement across: which are, fundamentally, the experiences that shift how we are, where we are.

A scene at the beginning of Cold War: folk musicians play a song about lost love: ‘I knocked, I cried | She wouldn’t open up | So I put my little head | Down on the stone.”

‘The view will be better there.’

The Department of Feminist Conversations

An open collective exploring feminist modes of gathering…

Diana Damian Martin

Written by

Criticism | Curation | Performance | Political Theory | Philosophy | Poetics. Contr Editor @theatremagazine. Member@GenerativeCons Lecturer@RCSSD

The Department of Feminist Conversations

An open collective exploring feminist modes of gathering and exchange since 2016. We use publishing, live events, workshops, salons, archives and interventions to mobilise, share knowledge, and reflect together. Facilitated by Maddy Costa, Diana Damian Martin and Mary Paterson.

Diana Damian Martin

Written by

Criticism | Curation | Performance | Political Theory | Philosophy | Poetics. Contr Editor @theatremagazine. Member@GenerativeCons Lecturer@RCSSD

The Department of Feminist Conversations

An open collective exploring feminist modes of gathering and exchange since 2016. We use publishing, live events, workshops, salons, archives and interventions to mobilise, share knowledge, and reflect together. Facilitated by Maddy Costa, Diana Damian Martin and Mary Paterson.

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