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The Champagne Spy

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

PALM SPRINGS -- It's easy to see why director Nadav Schirman plans to adapt his first film, the documentary "The Champagne Spy," into an English-language narrative feature. The story of Ze'ev Gur Arie, aka Wolfgang Lotz, is the stuff of Cold War glamour and international intrigue, with a dark personal twist.

Lotz was a German-born Israeli spy who so fully adopted his undercover identity that he left behind a wife and child. Focusing on the testimony of Lotz's fellow Mossad agents and especially his son, all speaking on camera for the first time, "Spy" is a compelling if sometimes frustratingly limited film. It screened in the Palm Springs festival's New Israeli Cinema section and was awarded the John Schlesinger Award for outstanding first feature.

Pertinent elements of Lotz's fascinating background -- he was half-Jewish; his mother was an actress -- get no mention here as Schirman dives straight into Major Ze'ev Gur Arie's 1961 assignment to Paris. His son, Oded Gur Arie, was not yet 12 when they moved from Israel, and he shot much of the 8mm home-movie footage excerpted in the film. Walking through Paris parks, his father is upright and dapper. His mother, Rivka, stylish in '60s sunglasses and white gloves, remains the sorrowful mystery in this story.

Gur Arie had broken the rules by telling Rivka and Oded the nature of his work. But it was in the pages of the Paris Herald Tribune that they learned of his bigamous second marriage, his arrest in Egypt and subsequent trial. Posing as a former Nazi Party member in Cairo, Gur Arie had become Wofgang Lotz, living a life of country-club leisure as owner of a horse-breeding farm. His goal was to root out Nazi scientists who might be of help to Egypt. He also fell in love with a German woman and convinced his horrified Mossad superiors that marrying her would serve his mission.

Schirman has rooted out extraordinary footage of Wolfgang and Wilfraud Lotz in prison; it might have been a show moment for the Egyptians, but the affection between them is genuine. Wilfraud paid the ultimate price for her love, and few people around Lotz went unscathed.

A 1960s-style horizontal split screen and Ran Bagno's jazzy spy-movie score are apt counterpoint to the story's emotional undertow. Chronicling the collateral damage inflicted on family and friends, "Spy" presents the flip side to James Bond dazzle.

THE CHAMPAGNE SPY
July August Prods./Lichtblick Film
Credits:
Writer-director: Nadav Schirman
Producers: Eilon Ratzkowsky, Koby Gal-Raday, Carl Ludwig Rettinger, Yossi Uzrad
Director of photography: Itai Neeman
Music: Ran Bagno
Editor: Joelle Alexis
Running time -- 89 minutes
No MPAA rating