Teacher, drifter, Mossad spy: a Berlinale tale of trust and treachery

February 10, 2019

By Thomas Escritt

BERLIN (Reuters) – Diane Kruger took herself on a spy-training course in Israel to prepare for her starring role in “The Operative”, and rapidly became a person she didn’t like.

The German-born actress plays a multilingual drifter with little in the way of allegiance or personal ties – prime material for Israel’s Mossad, which sees in her someone eager for a homeland to which she can become loyal.

“I did little things like convincing a stranger in the street to help me get from A to B, or knocking on someone’s door and saying ‘I need your help can I come in’ on a mission to get to their balcony,” she told reporters after the film’s screening at the Berlin Film Festival on Sunday.

“I felt terrible lying to these really nice people,” Kruger said. “There is so much anxiety that comes with doing that.”

Kruger stars opposite British actor Martin Freeman, who plays her handler, and Cas Anvar, a Canadian of Iranian heritage who plays the Tehran playboy who is Mossad’s target in a dangerous operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Based on the novel “The English Teacher”, by former Israeli intelligence officer Yiftach Reicher Atir, the film portrays ruthless professionals who demand and receive trust only to betray it moments later. They send Kruger to Tehran under the guise of an English teacher.

Despite the death and devastation they cause, the agents do not come off badly in the film, according to director Yuval Adler, arguing that the eye-opening depictions of spycraft in enemy territory were common to all intelligence agencies.

“I am Israeli, and I don’t think it shows Mossad in a bad light,” he said. “Intelligence organizations are always about exploitation to achieve their goals … There is a tension in the film between the professionals who manipulate the non-professionals.”

And yet the film, set in Israel, Iran and Germany, closes on an ambivalent, even redemptive note, suggesting that, for once, the non-professionals have outwitted the pros. Or is it that the truest professionals preserve a moral compass to the very end?

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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