“We’re going to defect, and you have to decide right now if you’re going home or coming with me.” I’m paraphrasing what Imants Lesinskis told his daughter Ieva in a hotel room in 1978. At this point, she had no idea her father was a KGB agent.
My Father the Spy, directed by Gints Grube and Jaak Kilmi, explores Ieva Lesinskis’s complicated relationship with an emotionally distant father hiding a tremendous secret and the impact of the difficult decision to leave everything she knew.
Full disclosure, it took me three tries to get through My Father the Spy because I kept falling asleep. The pacing is glacially slow, and everyone talks in a deliberate, calming tone. Honestly, this documentary might be a non-narcotic alternative for chronic insomnia. Don’t get me wrong, the story is intriguing and the idea of your entire world being turned upside down in an afternoon is compelling. However, the delivery of that story made me nod off on two separate occasions.
“…she had no idea her father was a KGB agent.”
A sizable chunk of My Father the Spy is spent not only on casting but also behind the scenes footage. We see the actors in hair and makeup. We see the sets being dressed and the lights being hung. Why? The charitable might say it was an artistic flourish by the directors. Perhaps in an effort to convey the false reality, Ieva’s father had built for her, to protect her from his double life. Now, as they explore his “real” story, she’s getting a behind the scenes look. She’s finally allowed to see the scaffolding of the drama that was her life. If that was the intention, then all I can say is it failed and bogged down the narrative.
The archival footage and Ieva’s narration do a wonderful job of setting the scene. They do a fantastic job of placing you back in that time when the Cold War was still at the forefront of popular consciousness. It is a look at the seedy underbelly of the real world of espionage. So far from the glamour of James Bond films that the light from them would take 10 million years to reach My Father the Spy. It shows us not only the difficulty of a life of duplicity but the emotional fall out when that life is over. Grube and Kilmi take extra care to tell the story from Ieva’s perspective. And, by putting us in her shoes, they make the whole story feel more personal.
Grube and Kilmi have a wonderful subject in Ieva Lesinskis. Her story is tragic and compelling, but most importantly, it is true. Due to an odd meta-artificial layer and snooze-inducing pace, they underserve that story. There is a great movie buried in My Father the Spy, but this is not it.
"…the pacing is glacially slow..."