15 July 2010 | Philby-3
Not much suspense but authentic atmosphere
In this film the adage "truth is stranger than fiction" is well demonstrated. The real story of Vladimir Vetrov, the KBG Colonel who leaked vital details of the Soviet spy network to the West in the early 1980's is even more bizarre that the story related here, where Colonel Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kursturica) uses a French electronics engineer Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), resident in Moscow, to pass secrets to the French domestic intelligence agency, the DST, and on to the CIA. Sergei ruled out using the DSGT, the French external intelligence service because he was aware it had been penetrated by the KGB. As it is the story here is a little lacking in tension despite the larger than life Sergei becoming more and more reckless as the story progresses .Some of the minor parts are pure vaudeville, Fred Ward's Ronald Reagan for example. However the two principals Kursturica and Canet, both prominent film directors, completely contrasting personalities, are very convincing. The 80's cold war atmosphere is well re-created – even the credits are vaguely menacing.
As in several recent spy stories "based on real events" the viewer is left with the impression that the West and Soviets had so thoroughly penetrated each other's security defences that they might as well have monthly meetings to hand over each other's secrets. This story does suggest that the Soviet Union was not able to keep up with Western technology, particularly in computing, and in resorting to stealing software the Soviets sowed the seeds of their downfall. In one instance the West was able to feed the Soviets with enough crook software to cripple their gas pipelines and cause a truly big explosion (without injuring a single person, apparently).
We do get considerable insight into what motivated Sergei, if not Vetrov (who seems to have been a less admirable character). Sergei is s true believer in communism, but he also fiercely loves his son, whom he wants to inherit something worthwhile. In a way the movie is as much about a parent sacrificing themselves for the sake of their child than the old spy versus spy routine. Froment is a less interesting character, but something inside him keeps him involved with the egregious Sergei despite his own misgivings and that of his wife Jessica (a refugee from East Germany with good reason to be afraid). Perhaps it's the opportunity for an otherwise unremarkable person to do something important. Or maybe he just finds it hard to say "non" to a person as charismatic as Sergei.
This film is not an "edge of your seat" suspense thriller but it tells an absorbing story, and is a useful reminder of the spy paranoia that prospered during the cold war.