The Operative (Germany- Israel-US-France 2019)

This was the title that I saw at the Kino International. This is one of the venues in the Berlinale, but it has a cachet of its own. It opened as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik ‘s prestige cinema in 1963. It has a spacious auditorium seating 551. The cinema is equipped with projection for 35mm, 70mm and 4K digital with Dolby Digital sound. It is an impressive building. The façade of the building carries especially designed sculptures of ‘every day socialist life’. One enters the sloping auditorium through extremely large oak panelled doors. Impressive drapes draw back to reveal the large screen, 17 by 9.2 metres. The title of the screening, part of the Berlinale ‘Out of Competition’ programme, was less impressive than the venue. An example of a sub-le Carré spy thriller. In fact several aspects of the plot reminded me of le Carré’s work and there was also a strong resemblance in the plot to the 2001 Spy Game (US).

Rachel (Diane Kruger – this is not the character’s real name) is a linguist looking for something out the ordinary. She is recruited by Thomas (Martin Freeman) as an operative for the Israeli Mossad. Because of her particular talents Rachel is assigned to Tehran undercover as an English teacher. The actual project is to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme. Once embedded Rachel is given the target of a business man whose firm is involved in the nuclear programme. This is Farhad (Cas Anvar). But the headstrong Rachel goes beyond her brief and starts a sexual relationship with Farhad. When the full extent of Mossad’s plans dawn on Rachel she goes AWOL.

The film opens as Thomas receives a cryptic phone call: a coded message from Rachel signalling panic. Thomas is called in to a Mossad agency office in Austria. The story is told in a series of flashbacks as he is debriefed. These bring us up to the dénouement of the film.

The film is adapted from a novel by Yiftah Reicher Atir. He worked in the Israeli secret services so one assumes that the trade craft in the story is relatively accurate. However, the plotting in the script is increasingly implausible. At one point Rachel is involved by Mossad in an illegal border crossing. This does not make sense in terms of the project on which she is working. What it does serve is to colour her motivation and her actions at the climax of the movie.

The discussions in the Mossad office seem conventionally accurate as do the secret service operatives. Thomas though seems an odd recruit to the agency. When we arrive in Tehran the city scenes are alright but the character of the Iranians seems more in line with Western stereotypes than more realistic representation in film from Iran. What is more interesting is the representation of Mossad. These are not the conventional idealists protecting an embattled community from terrorism. They are exactly like the secret services of the western imperialists; brutal, violent, amoral and retaining their humanity solely for their fellow Israelis. This is where the film’s representation comes closer to le Carré.

Kruger and Freeman are both good in their parts, and the supporting actors are generally convincing. The production values of the film are good. The excellent cinematography by Kolja Brandt and both the editing by Hansjörg Weißbrich and the Production Design by Yoel Herzberg are well done. The title offers English, German, Hebrew and Farsi dialogue; there are English subtitles but at some points another character translates lines of dialogue. The film is both scripted and directed by Yoel Herzberg so I think he bears the main responsibility for both the weaknesses and the strengths of this movie.

It is clearly a mainstream genre production. So I would expect a proper British release for the title. In the International projection and sound systems the film looked and sounded good. It probably stands up enough to watch at a theatre.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.