Garbo: The Spy Review
Having barely escaped a bungled attempt to cross lines during the Spanish Civil War, Spanish man-of-mystery Juan Pujol offered his services as a spy to the British at the dawn of WWII and was rejected. He ended up working for the Allies only after fully infiltrating himself with the Germans, who believed he was spying on the British, when in fact he was feeding the Nazis a combination of real information and wholesale lies—a lot of it “sourced” from a network of fictional spies that Pujol invented—in order to muck up their operations. Edmon Roch’s inventive portrait of the spy who was code-named Garbo by the Brits because he was considered to be “the best actor in the world” builds to the climax of his duplicitous career, the deception that convinced the Nazis that the Allies’ storming of Normandy was merely a diversion away from a “real” strike on Calais. Playfully scrambling documentary tropes (talking heads start to appear at the five-minute mark but aren’t identified for another 30 minutes), Roch uses judiciously chosen clips from Hollywood films (The Stranger, Patton, and, of course, Mata Hari) to tell the story of real events in which Pujol was involved. Some of this footage feels like filler, but Roch’s concept is strong: He’s creating a dialogue between the fictions Pujol created to help win the war and the fictions Hollywood created to memorialize that victory.
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