Silenced: Georgi Markov and the Umbrella Murder (Zum Schweigen Gebracht: Georgi Markov und der Regenschirm-Mord): Montreal Review

Dry investigative doc concludes with a doozy of an encounter

Klaus Dexel pursues the mysteries behind "one of the most emblematic crimes of the Cold War"

MONTREAL — Refusing to let a Cold War cold case die, Klaus Dexel investigates the 1978 murder of Georgi Markov in Silenced: Georgi Markov and the Umbrella Murder, following leads he believes various intelligence agencies have deliberately swept under the rug. Worthwhile for Cold War obsessives but quite dry for anyone else, the doc has little theatrical appeal but does offer a long third-act encounter that temporarily brings it to life.

Markov, a Bulgarian playwright who defected when his satires became increasingly hard to stage under the communist regime, became a journalist in London for the BBC World Service. There, he stayed relevant by penning "In Absentia Reports" that were broadcast on Radio Free Europe. These reports continued until his mysterious death: A stranger who bumped him on his way to work injected him with a pellet laced with ricin. Not realizing at first he had been attacked, Markov went to work but left after developing a fever. By the time he entered the emergency room the next day, he knew what was up: The doctor who attended him recalls that "he sighed and laughed, 'I've been poisoned by the KGB.'" He was dead days later.

The killer was never found. Hopes of finding details in government files were sparked when the Eastern Bloc fell; but the day Markov's wife arrived in Sofia, hoping to reopen the investigation, the Markov dossiers were burned.

Dexel and company put together what pieces remain, and after some rather nitpicky concerns with the mechanics of the killing -- was the writer standing still or walking when he was injected? -- they settle on a hunt for Francesco Gullino, a secret agent (code-named Picadilly) who is believed, at the least, to have been involved with the plotting.

Much of the information here has been around for years, and the film's assemblage of interviews with journalists and those who knew Markov, though thorough, does little to animate the decades-old mystery. But in chronicling the false-starts and frustrations of their investigations, the film finally arrives at Gullino's doorstep: The portly old Italian invites the crew in and sits with a dog on his lap while they question him. The strange evasiveness of his answers -- he denies having anything to do with "that story," but makes very little effort to be convincing -- is a dramatic payoff some viewers will find worth the wait.

Production Company: Klaus Dexel TV-Filmproduction

Director-Screenwriter: Klaus Dexel

Producers: Klaus Dexel, Marc Oliver Dreher, Martin Ludwig, Alexander Donev

Executive producers:

Directors of photography: Oliver Sachs, Burhan Ozdal

Music: Andreas Helmle

Editor: Micki Joanni

No rating, 92 minutes