Tuesday, June 16, 2020

My Father, the Spy—and the Mystery of What Happened to Him

Imants Lesinskis was a Soviet translator at the United Nations, so of course he was a spy. What his KGB masters did not know was Lesinskis was also spying for the CIA. For years, he had hoped to ultimately defect, but when he finally did, it dramatically upended the life of his daughter Ieva Lesinska. Decades later, Lesinska investigates her many unresolved family mysteries in Gints Grube & Jaak Kilmi’s My Father the Spy, which releases today on VOD.

Lesinska’s attitude towards her father remains conflicted. Although he was already divorced from her mother, Lesinskis brought her to New York, hoping she would agree to defect with him and his second wife. Technically, she had a choice, but either option would result in a cutting of ties. She decided to stay with him and her stepmother in America, which understandably strained her relationship with her mother.

Although Lesinskis is a highly ambiguous figure throughout the doc, the many FBI and CIA agents who facilitated their defection come across as much more sympathetic than viewers might expect. They understood the emotional and psychological pressure Lesinka was likely to experience, so they did their best to make her feel welcome. On the other hand, controversial Soviet defector sounds rather sinister when explaining his past role carrying out assassinations of those who defected to the West, before him. This is particularly (and understandably) distasteful to Lesinska, due to her questions regarding her father’s own fate.

The film takes on a rather surreal meta-aspect in the early stage, when Lesinska herself helps cast the performer who plays her twenty-year-old self in the many flashback scenes. These sequences clearly underscore the subjectivity of memory and “official” history, as well as Lesinska’s acutely personal perspective.

Ironically, My Father is somewhat more conventional than many of Kilmi’s previous films, such as the archly droll Disco and Atomic Warfare or the wistfully nostalgic caper-narrative, The Dissidents. Regardless, Lesinska’s story is intriguing and despite her conflicted feelings, it never excuses or covers-up the ruthless tactics employed by the Soviets, especially with respects to assassinations.

Disco is a classic everyone should see. My Father the Spy is not quite at that level, but it is still definitely recommended when it releases today (6/16), on VOD platforms.