Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
It takes a lot of patience to watch "The Russia House," but it takes even more patience to be a character in the movie. To judge by this film, the life of a Cold War spy consists of sitting for endless hours in soundproof rooms with people you do not particularly like, waiting for something to happen. Sort of like being a movie critic.
The top-level spies in this film are apparently hooked into some kind of high-tech electronics network that allows them to know at all times what their people in the field are doing. But the people are often not doing very much, and so my mind wandered, speculating what it would be like to sit for hours in cynical world-weariness, drinking coffee or sherry in book-lined rooms, waiting for something to happen so you can make a suitably jaundiced comment about it.
The film, like John le Carre's novel, takes place in a world where glasnost is eroding the old certainties about the Cold War. It tells the story of a small-time, alcoholic London book publisher named Barley (Sean Connery), who is sent a manuscript by a beautiful Russian woman he claims never to have met. The manuscript is intercepted by British intelligence, which pays a visit to Barley in the Lisbon flat where he often repairs for drinking bouts, and they quiz him about the book and the girl until in exasperation he agrees to go to Moscow and follow up on the transaction.
The key questions are, who wrote the manuscript, and why? It appears to be a highly technical work calling into question the quality of the Soviet Union's defense weaponry. Is it true? False? Does the author know what he or she is talking about? All of these questions are debated at length before and after Barley's trip, during which he actually meets the mystery woman who passed the manuscript to the West.