The Defector (1966)

by mudrhetoric

The Defector is a film from a time past, classic Cold War intrigue. The setting: East Germany, a morality play in which Montgomery Clift is placed against Hardy Kruger. Clift is never wholly conflicted as a character, and seems to know the purpose of his mission, although he seems to have a penchant for dalliance. Kruger, on the other hand, is a most more interesting character, and it is his role that really is the driving force of the film. His conflict is a multifaceted one and revolves around friendship, betrayal, country, duty, and his idea of sense of mission.

The Defector 1

The film was directed by Raoul Levy and is likely most notable for the Godard cameo than anything else. The plot is fairly bland and the pacing and film stock match it. And it is this sense of consistency in blandness which intrigues me the most, how everything sort of came together with a resound of beige and taupe. I would say this film is also noteworthy because it doesn’t come off as a straight up propaganda piece, which it easily could have fallen into. The deception and deviousness comes from both sides and both Clift and Kruger are caught in the middle of this great game as two, who are ultimately uninitiated.

The Defector 2

The shots in the film that I thought were the best all involved windows, and because of the film stock, had a sense of a defamiliarized photorealism making it all seem surreal. The shots near running water also reflected this sense of unreality. I don’t know if it was a conscious choice to use the film stock that they selected or if it was a money decision, but whatever the reason may be, it was the correct choice, as this film stock is made for this kind of film. The Cold War was a gray, and overcast, a cast of grime over the aperture.

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The main flaw of the film, and something not unique to it, is that the director had no control over the background actors, and there are scenes in which they will distract you from the main players. There is also a love story line tacked on which was oddly left incomplete. The ending though was pitch perfect. Overall, I would say that this film was worth my time, and that I will surely rewatch it again at some point. The dynamics of Clift and Kruger make it easy to forget any of the flaws that the film might have.