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16 October 2015 - Bridge of Spies: Spielberg's take on the Cold War

Publié par Marion Coste le 16/10/2015

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Spielberg Takes on the Col War in 'Bridge of Spies'

Mark Jenkins (NPR)

Your country may be wrong, Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies sadly admits. But it maintains that a solid American family man can always be trusted. In the Cold War, as at home, father knows best.

That father is Spielberg regular Tom Hanks, or rather James Donovan, who presents himself as a plain-talking, uncomplicated insurance company lawyer. In the sequence that introduces him, Donovan coolly parses a claim, insisting that a single incident cannot be multiplied into several payouts. The roundabout conversation feels at the time like an indulgence, if not for Hanks then for the director. But it will later, well, pay off.

There are no extraneous elements in this carefully structured docudrama, which juxtaposes East and West with parallel scenes and emulates vintage Hollywood fare as painstakingly as it reconstructs 1957 Brooklyn and 1962 Berlin.

It's in Brooklyn that we meet the phlegmatic man who calls himself Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), an amateur painter with a British accent. That his identity is indistinct is shown by the way he, working on a self-portrait, ponders his face in a mirror. Abel is a Soviet spy, according to the FBI agents who bust him in a deftly choreographed sequence. To give the appearance of a fair trial, Donovan is enlisted to defend Abel — but not to make a fuss about lack of warrants and such. Constitutional protections don't apply to Commies (a fact that provokes comparisons to current questions about the pursuit of presumed terrorists). "Don't go Boy Scout on me," Donovan is warned.

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For Spielberg, 'Bridge of Spies ' is culmination of a Cold War fascination
Steve Dollar (The Washington Post)
What now seems like a distant footnote in U.S. diplomacy made a lasting impression on a young Steven Spielberg. The filmmaker was 13 in 1960 when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down during a mission over the Soviet Union, which claimed the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, as a prized prisoner of the Cold War.

The event is a catalyst in “Bridge of Spies,” which dramatizes the behind-the-scenes intrigue that led to the 1962 exchange of Powers and a U.S. student, Frederic Pryor, for KGB Col. Vilyam Fisher. Fisher, under the name Rudolf Abel, had been imprisoned by the United States for espionage. The exchange, made in the foggy pre-dawn hours on Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge, was negotiated by a civilian — Brooklyn insurance lawyer James Donovan — played in the film by Tom Hanks.

“I’m a Sputnik kid,” said Spielberg, 68. “It was an era that I immediately connected with, growing up during the Cold War and being very, very aware of the stakes in this nuclear game of dice.” The director’s interest in the film’s original screenplay, written by Matt Charman, was intensified by its relevance to his own childhood in Phoenix in the era of “duck and cover” nuclear paranoia. “We were shown 16mm ‘educational’ films about what to do when you see the white flash, and even giving us false hope that if we did see the white flash, if we followed the instructions, it was survivable,” he said. “Which I didn’t believe for a second.”

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American history

Steven Spielberg on the Cold War and Other Hollywood Front Lines
Cara Buckley (The New York Times)

In the world of politics before Donald Trump came to save us from rational discourse, most debates were stately, inconclusive affairs. Oh, there would be an occasional zinger or oops moment. There were campaigns that died or came to life on the stage, but for the most part debates, especially in the preprimary months, ratified what already was. This was especially true in years when there was a political consensus among the candidates, as there was in the first Democratic debate of the 2016 cycle. It was an engaging debate, and a serious one, but no barns were burned, moderators insulted, hair sprayed stiff or set on fire. Hillary Clinton won, but not by default. She won by being a positive, unruffled and rational presence—yeah, human even—on a stage filled with lesser candidates.
The earth didn’t move, and the polls probably won’t, either. The most important moment was one of comity rather than confrontation: Bernie Sanders saying that the American people were “sick and tired” of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s “damn” emails. If you kept the Brooklyn accent and replaced “emails” with “bunions” or “heartburn” or “kishkes,” (Yiddish for intestines), you could have been eavesdropping at any given Thanksgiving dinner of my youth. All Jews have an Uncle Bernie: in this case, the powerful surprise was the graciousness of the moment rather than the chronic dyspepsia. Sanders was acknowledging what most Democrats believe—that the hubbub over Clinton’s emails is more a Republican ploy than a national crisis—and by doing so, he burnished his credentials as a truth teller.

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Hillary Clinton

Steven Spielberg: Compared to today's surveillance, the cold war was polite
Nigel M Smith (The Guardian)
Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Bridge of Spies, is a historical thriller set during the cold war – but according to its director, the story it tells is more relevant than ever. Tom Hanks stars as James B Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer who was recruited by the CIA to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and later arranged for his swap with Gary Powers, a captured U2 pilot in East Berlin. Donovan’s heroic efforts resulted in the release of Powers, as well as that of Frederic Pryor, an American college student also detained.
“The cyber-hacking that is going on today is just like the spying that went on then,” Spielberg said at a press conference for the film. He went further: compared to today, “the cold war was polite in terms of the way we were spying on each other. The way it is today, you just don’t know that when you’re watching television, is television actually watching you? There are just so many eyes on all of us.”
Hanks also spoke of the film’s timeliness, though for a different reason than his director. Asked if he consulted with lawyers who defend those detained in Guantanamo Bay for war crimes, Hanks recalled watching a video on YouTube in which Donovan stated the reason he took on the case and carried his cause all the way to the supreme court. “Donovan said, ‘You can’t accuse this man of treason. He’s not a traitor - he’s actually a patriot to his cause. Only an American can commit treason against their own country. He’s just a man doing his job, in the same way we have men doing our jobs over here.’”
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"16 October 2015 - Bridge of Spies: Spielberg's take on the Cold War", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), octobre 2015. Consulté le 29/05/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/key-story/archives-revue-de-presse-2015/16-october-2015-bridge-of-spies-spielberg-s-take-on-the-cold-war