Even as words sharp enough to slice you open fly between two lovers, communist regimes wreak havoc on love, or grisly injuries are casually waved, there is something untouchably tender about Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War.” The film manages to stay warm even when its shell is spikey. “Cold War” is all about heart, and that it is a heart that yearns profoundly.

Tracing the love affair of Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) in 1940s and ‘50s Europe, we follow the pair after they meet as part of a Polish singing ensemble and continue to chase each other across the years, borders and status. 

That logline may seem like something you’ve seen before, and you’re probably right; star-crossed lovers whose passion smolders even as war burns the world around them is not exactly untred territory.

Perhaps the intensity of Zula and Wiktor isn’t even all that novel — something the film seems keenly aware of. Pawlikowski shoots his players with an awareness of their place in a crowd; a man relieving himself in between sets in wintry woods isn’t just the sole human among the bleak and blank Polish landscape, he’s also just one of the dark silhouettes created among the trees. Zula, on stage with her troupe, is just another Polish folk singer, but centered at the very bottom of the screen, she’s also the center of the audience’s (and Wiktor’s) attention.

When “Cold War” first opens we follow Wiktor and his team around various Polish villages, listening, recording and recruiting musicians of all varieties.

This knowingness about both blending and standing out from a crowd is exactly how one could sum up the appeal of “Cold War.” On its face, it feels (and I mean this lovingly) like someone fed all the tropes of black-and-white arthouse war films into an algorithm. But when you’re watching it, the seething intensity between Kulig and Kot is electrifying. More than once they exchange glances so wordlessly intense that it almost hurts.

'Cold War' opens Friday, Jan. 18, at SIFF Egyptian. Find out more here.

And so when Kot smokes his cigarette and calls Zula “the woman of my life,” it doesn’t seem trite or worn territory at all; it feels like that ache of lost love we can all relate to. And as when they can’t peel themselves away from each other after their first visit in two years, “Cold War” extends that intoxication to the audience.

Perhaps those moments are never better exemplified than any performance of the theme song of the film, "Dwa Serduszka.” As Zula and Wiktor’s love story builds from love to epic story, so too does the song’s arrangement, growing from mountain tune to choir hymn to its final iteration as a sultry jazz club version. The latter is what makes a perfect, lasting mark for the movie: lush and immediately moving.

Of course those moments are never too far from a watchful eye; even as they observe a couple kissing from their cruise down the Seine, an unknown man lingers slightly downriver. In “Cold War,” love is never that far removed from the state. And so the tension of “Cold War” plays on: How much can love simmer in a cold, uncaring world?