In a healthier film culture, Garbo the Spy would make history. Its great pleasure is that it remakes history: telling the real life story of a WWII counterspy Joan Pujol Garcia through the sophisticated use of fictional film footage. It was Garcia who misled the Nazis about a planned maneuver at Calais—misdirection that facilitated the American’s D-Day landing on Omaha beach in Normandy. That signal event was already mythic before Steven Spielberg revived it inSaving Private Ryan but it’s part of the familiar history that Garbo the Spy renders fascinating. It is one of the cleverest political documentaries ever made.
Director Edmon Roch understands how history and politics often come to us through romantic supposition. His collage of Hollywood scenes isn’t snarky like Atomic Café (1982), a facile mockumentary that flattered modern viewers’ superiority to the past. Turning movie clips from The Secret Code, Mata Hari, Pimpernel Smith, The Invisible Agent, Mr. Moto’s Last Warning to Our Man in Havana, The Longest Day to Patton into puzzle pieces, Roch assembles an alternate reality to the life of Pujol, an adventurer born in Barcelona in 1912. One of those politically neutral personalities—a person willing to work for Allies as much as Nazis—Pujol was the only person awarded on both sides of the war, receiving England’s OBE and Nazi Germany’s Iron Cross II. Pujol admitted “I fought against injustice and iniquity with the only weapons at my disposal.”
To read the full review by Armond White, head to City Arts.
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