In a word, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Cold War is brilliant — an impressively grim, beautifully shot, wonderfully concise portrait of a compulsively hot if constantly frustrating love affair. Romantic bindings can be fatiguing, turbulent, infuriating, painful or even destructive, but the fires are not easily quenched.

Right now Cold War is the leading candidate to win the Palme d’Or, hands down.

Set in ’50s-era Poland and France (mostly Warsaw and Paris) and spanning about a decade, it’s about a musician-arranger (Tomasz Kot) and a headstrong femme fatale singer (Joanna Kulig) who are drawn to each other but never quite come together or achieve even a semblance of stability, much less synchronicity.

Cold War director Pawel Pawlikowski, actress Joanne Kulig during this morning’s press conference — Friday, 5.11, 11:35 am.

Kot pursues, wins, then loses Kulig, over and over. But she keeps returning, affirming her love then changing her mind and ducking out the side door.

Pawlikowski employs the same glorious black-and-white palette and 1.37:1 aspect ratio that he used for Ida, and it’s just pure dessert, an ice-cream sundae — I was in boxy heaven.

And Cold War is only 84 minutes. I love it when a world-class director reminds us all that narrative discipline and pruning things down to essentials are still active options.