spies, from reality to the big screen

Espionage is above all a story of technology. And the cinema has always reflected this. From the miniature camera used by James Mason in The Cicero Affair to the gadgets developed by the genius “Q” for Agent 007, to the Enigma encryption machine, used by the Germans during the war, at the heart ofImitation Game. They feed the fantasy machine generated by the figure of the secret agent, the quintessential romantic hero who has inspired filmmakers so much for a century.

It is that beyond their mutual fascination, espionage and the 7th art have in common to capture sounds and images to “falsify reality” and build stories. It is these invisible links that serve as the guiding thread of the fascinating “Top secret” exhibition which opens on Friday 21 October at the Cinémathèque française (1).

By mixing real accessories from the intelligence services, largely from the collections of a British museum, with cinema artifacts, she helps to blur the lines between reality and fiction. Indeed, it is difficult to distinguish whether this briefcase of hairpieces, these varnished shoes with blades integrated into the heel, or these dead rats trapped with explosives belong to real life or to a film set.

on the other side of the mirror

An interweaving such that certain film actresses did not hesitate to go to the other side of the mirror during the Second World War, such as Joséphine Baker, Hedy Lamarr or even Marlene Dietrich who, far from the image of seductive Mata Hari that ‘she embodied on screen in Agent X27 by Josef von Sternberg, bears witness to the role of women in the art of intelligence. The mirror can also be reversed when, at the end of the 1930s, a Soviet spy, Ruth Werner, took the code name “Sonia” in homage to the character in Fritz Lang’s film, The spies (1928).

If a few filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, gave their letters of nobility to the genre, during its English and then American period, post-war spy cinema settled permanently in the division into two blocks resulting from the Cold War. . The cinema then becomes propaganda with its super spies, symbolized by the character James Bond, and conveys the values ​​of the free world right down to its aesthetics.

But he also translates, through his double agents, all the duality and paranoia of this time before the fall of the Wall and terrorism gave birth to other more individualistic heroes, when they did not simply revolt against their employer. like Jason Bourne or irrigate the new serial format with Homeland Where The Office of Legendsby Eric Rochant.

A journey as fun as it is interesting

The exhibition, which unfolds on several levels, shows to what extent this universe is not limited to literature and cinema but inspires artists of all kinds. The magnificent storyboard made for Manhunt by Fritz Lang becomes a work of art in its chiaroscuros, just like the drawings of Ken Adam, production designer on seven adventures of James Bond.

The artist Simon Menner worked directly on the photographic archives of the Stasi when Heather Dewey-Hagborg reconstructed in 3D, 24 “probable” faces of the whistleblower Chelsea Manning from her DNA. It is in this permanent dialogue between reality and fiction, between the characters and their own parodies, between the filmmakers themselves but also between the different arts, that the exercise takes on its full meaning. It makes the course as playful as it is interesting.

Just navigate a world map to locate our fictional spies, lock yourself in a box with Michael Caine to be brainwashed by the CIA (Ipcress, immediate danger, 1965), or visualize in parallel scenes of OSS 117 and its model 007, but also by going back further from the films of Alfred Hitchcock, to measure to what extent this world of secrecy irrigates a large part of history the cinema. And has its own geography, from London to Berlin, epicenter of the East-West confrontation, or even Moscow; from South America to the Middle East. Today, if spies seem tired, they take on the face of citizen whistleblowers and in turn become movie heroes…

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