An Officer and a Spy Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: film production; game by Jean Dujardin; details in the frame; script based on a true story Cons: the film slowly reveals the facts, but in the end it quickly runs through the events, sacrificing the main details of the denouement “An Officer and a Spy” / J’accuse

Genre historical drama
Directed by Roman Polanski
Cast: Jean Dujardin (Colonel Marie-Georges Picard), Louis Garrel (Captain Alfred Dreyfus), Emmanuel Seigner (Pauline Monnier), Gregory Gadebois (Major Hubert Henri), Eric Ruf (Colonel Sander), Vladimir Yordanov (General Mercier), Vincent Grasse (General Billot), Didier Sandre (General de Boisdeffre), Herve Pierre (General Gonze), Laurent Stoker (investigator in the Picard case), Andre Marcon (writer Emile Zola), etc.
Company Legend Films, RP Productions, Gaumont
Year of release 2019 (in Ukraine 2020)
IMDb website

The story that Roman Polanski turned into a movie began with a trial that took place in France in 1894. An officer of Jewish origin, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of high treason – he was suspected of transferring secret documents to representatives of the German Empire. Senior military officials insisted on Dreyfus’s guilt, ignoring the investigative process and guided by personal anti-Semitic views. Dreyfus was demoted in disgrace and sentenced to exile, which he served on a remote island.

In 2013, writer Robert Harris gave these events a fictional form. Using historical information, he created a novel in which he described in detail what happened in France after the arrest of Dreyfus. And Polanski, who collaborated with the writer not for the first time (based on Harris’s book, the thriller The Ghost Writer was filmed with Ewan McGregor in the title role), received an excellent script.

Preparations for the production of the film dragged on for several years (not without problems related to the director’s personality, but more on that later). When the film was finally ready, it entered the main competition at the Venice Film Festival (where Todd Phillips first screened the film Joker), where Roman Polanski’s work was awarded the Grand Jury Prize – the Silver Lion.


The film is truly worth watching. This is a high-quality historical film adaptation in which attention is paid to every detail: be it the stitching on a soldier’s uniform or the arrangement of general’s offices. The authenticity of the scenery helps to penetrate the atmosphere that reigns in French society, where the Jewish spy was found. By the way, the persecuted Alfred Dreyfus, played by a made-up Louis Garrel, is far from the central character of the film.


Almost from the first minutes of the film, Colonel Picard appears in the frame, whose actions will become the starting point of the story. We meet Picard when he is appointed to a senior position in counterintelligence. The hero is just beginning to learn the intricacies of extracting military-political information, but thanks to his discipline and resourcefulness, he quickly understands what’s what. Having gained access to personal correspondence, the colonel notices a strange detail that calls into question Dreyfus’s betrayal and leads in a different direction.


Picard is played by the famous actor Jean Dujardin (Oscar winner for his role in the film The Artist). He demonstrates the restraint of his character, preferring facts over blind nobility. His hero becomes a guide into the curious world of French intelligence – where surveillance turns into painstaking paper research, where words, not shots, are valuable.


Roman Polanski does not follow modern film trends, so the pace of the protagonist’s work is rather leisurely, and the nuances of his investigation are extremely detailed. In addition to all this, many officers (who existed in real life) appear in the film, which adds a lot of characters to the picture. Shot this way, the film still holds your attention, thanks in large part to the excellent work of the production design team – they manage to fill the space with antiques and works of art.


Towards the end, the director does speed up, and the film suddenly loses several important explanations that play a big role in the final point in the plot. Polanski tells the rest of the story in a hurry, probably taking into account the fact that in France the denouement is known to almost everyone. However, I would like to remove several minor scenes from the film in order to be able to see the climax without gaps.


The manner in which the finale is presented is far from the only obstacle to the perception of the drama “An Officer and a Spy.” After the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, some jury members raised questions about whether the work of a director who is a fugitive from justice (Roman Polanski fled the United States in 1978 before being convicted of rape of a minor) should even be considered. . For the same reasons, an unpleasant scandal arose around the Cesar Award – first, Polanski’s film received 12 nominations, and then the leadership of the French Film Academy resigned in its entirety, reacting to protests by activists against the film.


The irony of life lies in the fact that the director’s films are no longer greeted with applause, but it is Polanski who is still able to make powerful stories about the victims of anti-Semitism. The director directed The Pianist based on his experience of life in the ghetto, and years later again turned to the theme of national intolerance when working on An Officer and a Spy. This film, like Polanski’s previous films, will go down in cinema history.


The film “An Officer and a Spy” shows interesting details of the work of French intelligence in the 1890s, gradually revealing the intricacies of espionage investigations.

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