Mossad flick ‘The Operative’ goes beyond politics

The movie, which is based on the novel The English Teacher, by Yiftach Reicher Atir, a former intelligence officer, “explored the life of a spy from the first-person point of view.”

February 13, 2019 01:48
2 minute read.
DIANE KRUGER and Martin Freeman in ‘The Operative.’

DIANE KRUGER and Martin Freeman in ‘The Operative.’ . (photo credit: KOLYA BRANDT)


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BERLIN – Politics are not front and center in Yuval Adler’s latest film, The Operative, the story of a foreign young woman recruited to work for the Mossad in Iran, according to the director.

The movie, his first film since the well-received Bethlehem (2013), was just screened as part of the Main Competition at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival. Adler spoke afterward at a press conference with the movie’s stars, Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman and Cas Anvar.
The movie, which is based on the novel The English Teacher, by Yiftach Reicher Atir, a former intelligence officer, “explored the life of a spy from the first-person point of view,” said Adler. In a similar theme to Bethlehem’s, it was about “the relationship between the handler and the operative,” the complexity of which drew him to the story.

Kruger plays Rachel, an aimless young woman, neither Jewish nor Israeli, who attracts the attention of a British-born Mossad agent, played by Freeman. Her spirit of adventure and language skills make her a natural for intelligence work, and she is sent to Tehran, where she works as a teacher, but where her real role is to find information on the nuclear program. There, she gets involved with an Iranian (Anvar) who runs a hi-tech company that works with the nuclear program. The film is a thriller with a strong psychological dimension, as it explores the feelings the main characters have for each other.

Asked whether the fact that the film shows the Mossad “in a bad light” might make life difficult for Adler because he was “born in Israel,” the director replied, “I wasn’t just ‘born in Israel,’ I’m Israeli.... I think intelligence organizations are always exploitative in their roles.... Professionals manipulate nonprofessionals.”

Noting that a lot of people in the Mossad are actually not Israeli and don’t speak Hebrew, just as Freeman’s character does not, Adler said, “In America, if you speak with an accent, people think you’re cool. In Israel, if you speak with an accent, people think you’re an idiot.”

The director, who is currently based in New York, has a PhD in philosophy from Columbia University, an unusual qualification for a filmmaker.

Asked about Culture Minister Miri Regev’s proposed legislation to extend government control of film financing in Israel, Adler said, “If it passes, it’s going to be bad. So far, it hasn’t passed, and there’s going to be elections.”

Kruger, looking much more glamorous at the press conference than she does in the film, said she had done some “Mossad training,” while preparing for the role, and could relate to the fact that her character, while daring, was basically an ordinary person.

“She’s not a killer; she’s not Jason Bourne or James Bond,” said Kruger.

Asked about how he prepared for his role, Freeman joked that “since a lot of my scenes were sitting down, drinking coffee,” it hadn’t been too difficult to get into shape.
The Berlin Film Festival will run until February 17.

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