The story of the double agent code-named Garbo is perhaps one of the most incredible true life tales to emerge from World War II (or even from history in general). So I enthusiastically looked forward to Edmon Roch's new documentary feature "Garbo: The Spy." A Spanish national who had seen the ravages of Communism and Fascism during the Spanish Civil War, Joan Pujol Garcia wanted to work with the Allies to oppose the Franco regime. When the British turned he down, he took matters into his own hands and offered his talents to the Germans as a devout zealot to their cause. He started feeding them faulty and/or fabricated information which led him to once again knock on British Intelligence's door. "Garbo: The Spy" relates this twisted tale and much more. Garbo's participation as a double agent led to a pivotal shift of power and he is credited with a major hand in the war's resolution. Unbelievable stuff!
But even as this is a thrilling subject, Roch's documentary is surprisingly low-key. The main text is related in a series of interviews with historians, reporters, and other spies. In an unusual choice, Roch doesn't even acknowledge who his contributors are for quite some time. I found myself questioning if I had missed something before the point where they are identified, but did enjoy how they were revealed. The talking head sequences are intercut primarily with movie clips in the first part of the film and archival footage in the second part. I didn't expect all the movies footage, most only thematically related to any particular topic at hand. But I did like it. It's an interesting approach, perhaps not for everyone, but I was never less than entertained. At the beginning of the movie, Garbo is a complete mystery but as the interviews progress--we do get closer to the man.
Truthfully, though, Joan Pujol Garcia remains largely an enigma. I suppose that's to be anticipated but his absence in the film is particularly noticeable. As he remains a relative cipher as a real human being, the film lacks some of the impact I might have expected. The tale is so fascinating, I wanted to learn more about the man. Roch assembles the other elements with style, and the final product is still quite engaging, lively and even witty. Even lacking Garbo as a principle character in his own right, the journey through his life and exploits is a compelling and entertaining one. An easy recommendation to those with an interest in the subject, and if you don't know the story--check it out, you won't believe it! KGHarris, 4/12.