Directed by Christian Carion
One of the many laments throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been the lack of reliable human intelligence on the ground. By all accounts, the U.S. emerged from the Cold War with an intelligence apparatus that was geared towards the former Soviet Bloc, with Russian speakers and cultural experts aplenty, but relatively few personnel who spoke Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu or who were expert in the related cultures.
In contrast, during the Cold War, both sides were spying on each other and had operatives placed in assorted sensitive locations. For a period of time, the Russians were spending almost as much on espionage as they were on research, with the design of certain planes, for example, being suspiciously like their Western counterparts. Some reports would suggest that a similar pattern is now being repeated in China, and there are Chinese cars that could be mistaken for Minis, Smarts, etc. It’s simply cheaper and easier to build something when somebody else has done the research and development work already.
But in 1981, at a time when the Russians had highly effective spies in multiple countries, and inside access to documents like the Space Shuttle design, one Russian Colonel in the KGB decided for himself that the Soviet system needed to be shaken and changed. He imagined a better society for his son’s generation and, much to everybody else’s surprise, started to pass secrets to a young French engineer who had loose connections to the French equivalent of the FBI. In doing so, he bypassed the entire spy networks of multiple countries, as he knew the extent to which they were all compromised and cataloguing each other’s activities. In one example of this, the senior French intelligence director depicted in the film tells President Mitterrand that they have code-named the Russian ‘Farewell,’ which would translate to ‘Adieu’ in French. Mitterrand asks why they don’t just call him Adieu. The director says that if/when the KGB discover the traitor and his codename, they’ll see the English name and just assume he’s working with the CIA, which will buy them valuable time.
This whole episode heavily involved both Mitterrand and Ronald Reagan, who is depicted as both communist-phobic, to an extent, but also quite savvy. He’s played here by Fred Ward, with a senior advisor played in a wonderfully low key role by David Soul (Hutch of TV’s “Starsky and Hutch”). The involvement of both Presidents was part of an attempt to keep the number of people in the loop to a minimum. The outcomes of the secrets that were passed in this manner were profound, and helped change both the balance of the Cold War and the stability of the Soviet regime.
The film itself, aside from being fascinating to watch, is very well-produced. It’s a true period piece, filmed in Russia, Ukraine, Finland, and France, and filled with authentic cars, trucks, and other tangible representations of that time that almost make it feel like it was shot there and then. The performances all seem pleasantly natural. The surprise and concern of most of those involved is well portrayed, including the concerns and dynamics within the immediate families of both men. This is a worthwhile film about a critical chapter in history that has gone largely unnoticed. It’s a must for those who have an interest in the shifting balances of power on the global political scene.
Going the Distance
Directed by Nanette Burstein
Real life on-again, off-again romantic interests Drew Barrymore and Justin Long play Erin and Garrett, a couple who meet at an inopportune moment in their lives. Garrett is a resident of New York City, who has just had a bad breakup, and Erin is a grad student and intern at a local newspaper. But she’s from San Francisco, and only in town for a few more weeks. The problematic outcome is that the relationship actually works very well. They unexpectedly find themselves having to deal with a long distance relationship (hence the title).
“Going the Distance” is a pleasantly watchable movie, with no great surprises and several moments of genuine good humor. It’s also an interesting exercise in the writing of what could be a successful date movie. On the one hand, it has all the dynamics of a typical romantic comedy of the type that stereotypically scares away many guys. On the other hand, it also has a running gag-sequence of crass and raunchy behavior between Garrett and his two best guy friends. One has cultivated a mustache as part of his quest to bed a much older woman (his theory is that it will remind her of her youth when mustaches were in style). The other has assorted questionable habits that make him a roommate of dubious status. It also includes some similarly graphic conversational content between Erin and her sister (Christina Applegate). It could keep both genders equally amused, or offended in an equally amusing manner.