I have to admit that I went into this movie with very high expectations. Guilty of looking at the high rating of the film on IMDb before I went in and knowing that it has been adapted from a rather popular novel, I was excited to enjoy a good cold war romantic drama. Despite the rather dull start and mediocre acting of the lead actors, I patiently waited for the film to take off and catch my attention with the mystery of the spy business that went on during the cold war period. It wasn’t long before I realised that this movie is not going anywhere in particular and as hard as I might try, I wasn’t invested in the characters and the romantic chemistry that the film desperately tried to portray. My husband had dozed off half way through the movie and I had to force myself to sit through it figuring out the puzzle pieces of this anachronic plot executed with poor direction and a weak script.
A high ranking government official of Russia (Alexander) falls for a seemingly intriguing young woman (Katya) who is in fact working as a spy for America. These two characters follow opposite political ideologies but find themselves attracted to each other as Katya steals important state secrets from Alexander. They get married and soon after, Katya reveals her dirty secret to her husband. Both of them realize that the only way to live a happily married life is to leave the Communist State and escape to the Free world of America. Katya convinces Alexander to defect from the Russian government and promises to join him there. And so the tragedy transpires that the Russian official who never wanted to leave Russia manages to escape while the anti-communist wifey who had been preparing her escape for the large part of her life is left in the lurch. The rest of the movie reveals the events of Katya’s life that led to her tragic fate. Parallel to this, another story continues of the quest undertaken by Katya’s neice (Don’t ask how she comes into picture. Just take their word for it that she looks exactly like Katya) to find the truth about what happened to Aunty Katya after she was left behind.
This film really let me down as a period drama because the interesting setting of Russia in the Cold War period is hardly conveyed through the movie. Certainly, the essential elements of the Russian Government and the prevalence of Communist propaganda are partially shown in the places that were necessary to justify the plot but this is never explored further than that. In one scene, it is revealed that people in Russia cannot afford a whole chicken and Alexander decides to make one for Katya for a dinner date. Katya comments on this but Alexander suggests it is a romantic gesture for her and that’s that. I believe that a large part of what would have made this romance interesting is the ideological differences between the couple. But the couple is never shown to have any arguments or discussion about how one’s world is so different from the other’s. Both these characters are shown to be attached to their ideologies from a young age and it is difficult to believe that both of them accept each other without any apparent differences. The entire focus of Katya and Alexander’s chemistry remains very physical that seems to want to communicate the deep love and affection they have for each other but appears superficial. Even when Katya reveals that she is a spy, the betrayal is mainly shown as a betrayal of love and not that of ideology. Alexander readily forgives Katya for her betrayals because, you know, love triumphs ideology. The film fails to develop a depth of character or depth of emotion in these two protagonists and the audience never feels attached to either of them. The romance between Katya and Alexander could have been set in any time period showing rivalry between any two countries and it would have been exactly the same because the relevance of the Cold War period is never discussed or examined. This is perhaps the most disappointing period drama that I have watched.
Although the film has a good plot at hand, a large part of the movie relies on gimmicks to generate the curiosity and interest of the audience. The lookalike niece seems intriguing at first but after the initial fascination with this character, her story is rather dull and boring. The anachronic plot creates some mystery and the movie heavily relies on the final act of the revelation of “What happened to Katya?”. Unfortunately, I was never invested enough in Katya’s story to care what happened to her. The film tries to be a classic tragic love story but feels empty at its core. This movie is just about as interesting as putting a puzzle together except that you know what the answer to the puzzle is. If that’s the case the experience of solving the puzzle should be enjoyable. In this case, it’s not.