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Celluloid curtain: Europe’s Cold War movie

6 - 9 MAY / RIVERSIDE STUDIOS, HAMMERSMITH LONDON W6. A series of European spy films from both sides of the Iron Curtain, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. These remarkable, mainly 1960s films shed light on the popular spy genre aimed both at entertainment and cementing the divisions and ideologies of the Cold War. Features Czech film Skid (Smyk).

Bookings: 0208 237 1111, www.riversidestudios.co.uk 

For more information please go to www.celluloid-curtain.eu


9 May, 18.30
Directed by Zbynek Brynychwith Jirí Vala, Jirina Svorcová, Jirina Jirásková
Czechoslovakia, 1960, 104 m subtitle
Czech immigrant Frantisek Král has a terrible car accident in West Berlin. A Western news service immediately takes advantage of the situation, provides him with a new identity and starts training the man, who is suffering from partial amnesia, to become a spy. His task is to get hold of a microfilm from Prague. Disguised as a clown working in a West German circus, he sets off soon after to perform in Prague. At first everything goes according to plan, but there is one thing Frantisek had not reckoned on: his home town does not correspond to the picture of dreariness and human suffering that had been drummed into him - quite the opposite in fact. When he meets up with members of his family, it finally becomes clear to him that he has been deceived.Director Zbynek Brynych and co-author Pavel Kohout created a psychologically-rich spy film that is set in transit between West Germany and Czechoslovakia – an area of conflict they themselves were forced into after 1968. Zbynek Brynych filmed mainly in West Germany after 1969, whilst the highly-respected commentator Pavel Kohout, who now lives in Austria, was expatriated in 1969 for his part as one of the spokesmen for the Prague Spring

The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
6 May, 20.45

Directed by Fritz Langwith Wolfgang Preiss, Dawn Addams, Peter van Eyck
West Germany/Italy/France, 1960, 103 m, subtitles

In his very last film Fritz Lang brought back to life a character with whom he had had a huge success in the 1930s.  With his 1960 film “Dr Mabuse”, Lang became the first film-maker to predict the power latent in surveillance. The film takes place for the most part in a hotel that Mabuse has fitted out with optical espionage units.  He is not the only one spying on the residents of the hotel, the unsuspecting guests relentlessly monitor and observe each other: insurance agent Mistelzweig is snooping on everyone, millionaire Travors is keeping a protective eye on Marion, who in turn is sounding him out whilst the Commissar keeps an eye on her every move.  Made shortly before the Wall went up, the film reflects the information mania of the Cold War and is an exaggerated depiction of the paranoid age of the Western and Eastern blocs - whilst quite incidentally leading to a new genre: Mabuse's thirst for power represents a new quality of filmic crime that became, later on in European espionage films, a feature of characters such as Dr. No, Blofeld or Dr. Fu Man Chu 

A Bomb Was Stolen
6 May, 18.55
Directed by Ion Popescu-Gopowith Ovid Teodorescu, Geo Saizescu, Tudorel Popa
Romania, 1961, 72 m

This dialogue-free, science-fiction comedy is the debut film of Ion Popescu-Gopo, a graphic artist who went on to become a successful director of animation films and who won the Golden Palm at Cannes. The artistic development of this director is noticeable from the very beginning of this highly scurrilous film: a young man in a suit is picking flowers in a meadow when suddenly a whole army battalion turns up - including a helicopter. Our hero, who has no name, no past and no mission, is simply the wrong man in the wrong place. Suddenly he comes into possession of a suitcase, which in all appearances looks to contain an atomic bomb, and all at once the villains of the world are after him. The film is packed full of visual and imaginative references to many classics from the history of film. Humour and comedy know no borders: Jacques Tati, Charlie Chaplin et al are alluded to and allow for comment in a sharply ironic tone on spying, mistrust and the world’s paranoia about the bomb. 

9 May, 20.45

Directed by János Veicziwith Alfred Müller, Helmut Schreiber, Ivan Palec
GDR, 1961/62, 103 m subtitle

Hansen works as an undercover agent for the GDR at a secret service HQ, disguised as a commercial enterprise that is run by the US army in Würzburg. He has already blown the cover of several American spies with the result that his boss has to take serious measures to stop the leak in his own ranks. Increasingly Hansen comes into his sights, yet he succeeds in passing a lie-detector test with flying colours and so manages to give himself enough time to get away with secret documents for a planned invasion of the GDR.The accusation that the West was planning to attack the GDR was one of the pretences that aimed to legitimise the building of the Wall. "For Eyes Only" came out in the GDR in July 1963. It was a great hit with audiences and provided an ideologised yet nevertheless excitingly-enacted illustration of this accusation (which was in fact never substantiated). The storyline as well as the character of Hansen as a "scout of peace" (the name given to Stasi spies in GDR terminology) was clearly based on Western genre types in terms of style, tone and tempo.

The Great Spy Chase 
8 May, 15.30
Directed by Georges Lautnerwith Lino Ventura, Françis Blanche, Bernard Blier
France/Italy, 1964, 109 m subtitle

When one of the most important arms manufacturers in the world dies, the French agent Françis Lagneau is given the task of finding his pretty widow in order to wheedle out of her the patent she inherited for a thermo-nuclear weapon. However the French are not alone in hitting upon this idea: Françis has barely arrived in the widow's castle before he encounters a Swiss, a German and a Soviet agent all trying to pass themselves off as distant relatives of the widow. And when an American turns up in the castle bringing dollars, and the Chinese turn up bringing violence, the confusion is complete.With its humorous dialogue and a deeply ironic plot, George Lautner’s "Les Barbouzes" parodies the espionage film genre. Cast with excellent actors, the film pushed the clichés of the time to their limit and created an intelligent satirical commentary on the situation of the blocs in Europe.  The widow’s castle functions as a microcosm in which the world’s secret services keep bumping into each other, instead of working together.

Rendez-Vous With A Spy
7 May, 14.00
Directed by Jan Batorywith Ignacy Machowski, Beata Tyszkiewicz
Poland, 1964, 105 m subtitle

At the beginning we see the sea, a submarine, a lot of strenuous work - a mysterious man flies into Poland in a hot-air balloon. Upon landing he coldly kills the first witnesses to his arrival. However, the Polish security services have already noted his infiltration and set their best agents after him, and so the chase begins. The spy goes his own way, his pursuers get ever closer - because the clever military intelligence know how to make use of the most modern technology, and slowly but surely they decipher his plans.Shot in high-contrast black and white, as if to set clearly in relief the positioning of good and evil, of home country and enemy, and with its clever staging, "Spotkanie ze szpiegiem" is persuasive. The tension is kept up to the last with a brilliant and fast car chase finale. The director Jan Batory was responsible for several different genres of film and was particularly successful as a director of children's films: amongst others he made "The Two Moon Thieves" with the twin brothers Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński, who were only twelve years old at the time. 

7 May, 18.50

Directed by Martin Rittwith Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner
United Kingdom, 1965, 112 m subtitle

For years Alec Leamas has been in charge of deploying British agents in West Berlin and the GDR. One day his opposite number from East Germany carries out a successful coup and destroys the complete network of British agents in the GDR. The British then decide to engineer Leamas’ social decline in order to turn him into an interesting decoy for the East. And thus begins for Leamas and his lover Nan Perry a complex game of illusion and reality between the two fronts that increasingly puts their lives in danger.
The film is based on the third novel by John le Carré, a one-time member of the British secret service, and is an example of a counter-movement in terms of western spy films where the mise en scène, plot and character were closer to an adventure film than a drama. Martin Ritt's film on the other hand showed another side of espionage: burnt-out disillusioned puppets at the mercy of dirty political machinations are sent out into murky sham fights that have no outright winner. The spy thriller had gained in seriousness and maturity.

High Season For Spies
7 May, 21.20

Directed by Julio Collwith Antonio Vilar, Letícia Román, Peter van Eyck
Spain/Portugal/West Germany, 1966, 89 m subtitle

Across Europe during the 1960s young film-makers were heading for new artistic shores, sending an already crisis-ridden cinematic economy into a spin. New commercial concepts needed to be found: and so ‘entertainment films’ - mainly international co-productions - came into being and quickly reacted to the needs of cinema audiences. It was the heyday of the spy film dressed up as filmic pulp fiction and the international orientation of the genre happily accommodated its multi-country beginnings. Artists and stars from different nations created cheaply-produced European spy films that were fast and furious. They might not have been consciously ideological, nevertheless, they clearly serviced Western values."Comando de asesinos" is a classic example of this era: the central ploy is a brand new technology (here it is an indestructible steel alloy) and agents from different secret services have to ensure that its formula does not get into the wrong hands - in this case a shady international organisation. Spies from Western secret services meet up in Lisbon and set about wildly chasing after each other, until at the end they join together for the 'common good'.

There Is Nothing Finer Than Bad Weather
8 May, 20.10

Directed by Metodi Andonov with Georgi Georgiev-Getz, Elena Daynova, Kosta Tsonev
Bulgaria, 1971, 129 m subtitle

The film is set in a large western European city that bears the hallmarks of Berlin. Using a pseudonym, Bulgarian super agent Emil Boev is hired by the company Zodiac to cover up a spy ring. Boev is a 'true agent', smart, sexy and fitted out with every weapon necessary. After a year he wins the trust of his boss Evans and tries to flush out the spy ring. He is supported by his attractive assistant Edit, but she, however, is playing a double game.The Swinging Sixties style of "Nyama nishto po-hubavo ot loshoto vreme“ (“There’s nothing better than bad weather“) makes for a convincing film, along with its dynamic, frivolously-cheeky, almost jazzy camera work that is reminiscent of the very best of the Nouvelle Vague. Film-maker Metodi Andonov is considered one of the most eminent Bulgarian directors of his time. The film is based on a novella by Bogomil Raynov, whose stories about the agent Emil Boev enjoyed great success. The Bulgarian cinematic icon Georgi Georgiev-Getz plays Boev convincingly and with great charm.

8 May, 12 noon

Directed by Grigori Aleksandrovwith Lyubov Orlova, Pyotr Velyaminov, Nikolai Grinko
Soviet Union, 1974, 142 m subtitle

Ludmila and her husband Fedor are two Soviet spies who have been working undercover in West Germany for years. They quickly made their way up into the highest business circles where those in charge, supported by the Americans, are helping add a new sheen to Germany following 1945 –  and are prepared to use military means against the Soviet Union if necessary.Ideologically “Skvorets i Lira“ is one of the ‘hardest’ but also one of the most sophisticated films of the Cold War. Yet it was barely shown in cinemas and was never seen outside the Soviet Union, even though its director Grigori Aleksandrov (co-director on Eisenstein’s ”Oktober”) is considered one of the most important Soviet film-makers. There was a great deal of speculation as to why – it was only thirty years later that the real rationale behind the ban became known. The film came out in 1974 just before the ‘Guillaume’ affair, a politically explosive German-German spy scandal that led to the resignation of the former German Chancellor Willy Brandt. As the film, according to those in power, lay a little too close to the truth, it was withdrawn so as not to bring any further attention to the affair. 

Háber's Photo Shop 
7 May, 16.30
Hungary 1963, 97 mins, black and whiteDirector: Zoltán Várkonyi. 
Gábor Csiky is released from prison after five years. Once out of prison he follows a tip-off from a fellow prisoner and presents himself to the photographer Háber, whose shop Foto Háber, a flourishing photographic company, is in fact only a front. In reality it is one of the most important branches of a spy ring. Csiky quickly gains Háber’s trust and is deployed in the mission R-100, the most dangerous to date, the aim of which is to get hold of an invention vital to the national economy. The mission is a success, but Csiky fatally shoots a policeman. During the hand-over, microfilm is also exchanged and the organisation becomes nervous: is there a mole in Foto Háber?
Zoltán Varkonyi, a film director and actor much-employed between the 1930s and 1970s, created in “Foto Háber” a spy film that in terms of its dramaturgy and form owes much to the crime film genre. With comparatively few starkly distinctive ideological references and a virtually universal understanding of genre, this beautifully-shot film playfully serves its public – on either side.

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