DocFest 2021 review: My Dear Spies
Ivan Radford | On 08, Jun 2021
My Dear Spies is streaming as part of Sheffield DocFest – find out more about the festival here.
Put your hand up if you’ve ever wanted to know more about your family history. Keep your hand up if that’s because you think your grandparents were spies. That’s the starting point for My Dear Spies, an absorbing documentary that plays out like a particularly unusual episode of Who Do You Think You Are.
Vladimir Léon’s film begins with a suitcase, which he opens up to show its belongings to his brother, Pierre. Inside is a muddle of memories and objects, which they piece together with a creeping sense of mystery and suspicion. Why would there be documents linking grandma Lily and grandpa Constantin to the Soviet secret services? And were they secretly providing information to the Soviet Union just before World War II?
A parade of old friends and historians help to bring to life the experiences of the duo, and while the unfolding process is a little on the long side, the runtime benefits from the open opportunity to emphasise the personal nature of the brothers’ quest – we soon learn that the family was deported from France after WWII for being politically dangerous. The result is not only an intriguing, intimate piece of investigative filmmaking, but also a story that’s stuffed with engaging Cold War-esque atmosphere and tiny details, such as the car factory in which Constantin worked, which is evocatively described as a “hotbed” of espionage. Maybe the BBC should make an episode of Who Do You Think You Are about them after all.
My Dear Spies is streaming at DocFest 2021 until 2.15pm on Wednesday 9th June.