SIFF: A blundering biopic of Sonja Wigert in The Spy

Female spies were all over the European map in World War II, but one that you might not know of was Swedish actress Sonja Wigert. That might be because during her natural life that aspect of her career was never revealed until a quarter-century after her death in 1980. It seems appropriate, then, that the powers that be would make a movie about her life in a ways to honor her work against the Nazi regime.

It would make sense, then, that one of Norway’s biggest female stars, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, would get pulled into Jens Jonsson’s movie, simply titled The Spy, which makes its bow at the SIFF. You might have seen Bolsø Berdal in the first two seasons of Westworld, but she was rather under-utilized in that series. In Spy, she plays Sonja Wigert, Sweden’s biggest box-office draw who gets recruited by her government to spy on the Germans, who in turn unknowingly use her to spy on the Swedes, with poor results for obvious reasons.

Jonsson’s movie could and should have been better, but instead, it falls back into familiar spy movie tropes that are so on-the-nose, so blatant, you can practically sleepwalk through the entire affair and not lose a beat. That’s not a good thing, because in a spy thriller, the need for suspense, even when its main character clearly survives the ordeal, even when you know the story well, is paramount. It just doesn’t seem as though Wigert is in any real danger, and one red herring does not exactly save the movie from its color-by-numbers development.

Adding to this, the movie never knows what period it takes place. If you are a stickler of detail as yours truly can be, you will notice that while the movie takes place in the late thirties and early forties, much of the hair and outfits seem a bit all over the place, as if the intent was to make it look of the period, but not be of the period. If we sum this to Bolsø Berdal’s committed but somewhat undefined performance, we get an actress playing an actress that seems to be not sure where her alliances are. Sonja Wigert deserves a better movie.

The Spy does not have a release date as of yet.

Grade: C

SIFF: The Gentle Irony of a holy place that is anything but in The Unknown Saint

So, you’re a thief and you’ve made a killing in gold. However, as life would have it, the cops are hot on your tail. You’re in the middle of nowhere and realize you’re going to face the music. Quick reasoning, you decide to hide your stash in a way that the cops will never find it — only you, when you get out.

The problem is, that while you do your time, when you get out, and go back to claim your stash… it’s not only not there/available, but there’s a monument that’s been erected over it.

The premise of Alaa Edit Aljem could not have been more ironic if you won the lottery the very same day you also got terrible news from the doctor. A film that delves into the gently absurd, The Unknown Saint posits an unlikely situation and the ramifications stemming from it like a blessing in disguise.

Trailer

Several plot threads convene into a grand comic whole in which the Thief (Younes Bouab) finds himself returning to the scene of the crime only to find out that the place is now a place of worship and that he’s regarded as a scientist. Yes, you read that right, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Along the way there is the Brain (Salah Bensalah), the Thief’s accomplice, continually blunders his attempts at retrieving the loot. A sexy, handsome doctor (Anas El Baz) has come to be the village’s doctor only to find out that the village has no need for him (except for entertainment), and a farmer and his son pray for rain, and get a lot more than they bargained for.

I find it refreshing that movies like these exist. I really loved how the desert, and the shrine at its center, become an all-knowing character hiding precious treasure in lieu of a miracle, but also, and in spite of the irony, a source of riches beyond the material. This is a gentle comedy in the Ealing style that initially makes you root for the Thief but, as the story progresses, you feel more empathy for the poor deluded folk who live in ignorant bliss. I especially love the universality of its story: this could have very well been a comic Western with slight magical realist overtones. As it is, The Unknown Saint is a fable with a slight moral lesson dressed in the trappings of a crime caper and a clever, empathetic Ealing comedy. [A–]