Two Lives: Cold War Intrigue in Norway, Starring Liv Ullmann

Two Lives

Opens Fri., March 21 at Varsity. Not rated. 99 minutes.

This Norwegian Cold War melodrama means well; it has aspirations, but they just make you think back to The Lives of Others or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Barbara—period espionage films that were so much richer and deeper. The woman we meet in 1990 as Katrine (Juliane Köhler) is married to a submarine commander; her college-age daughter just had a baby; and her widowed mother (Liv Ullmann!) lives on a nearby farm on the picturesque coast. Katrine speaks fluent German. It emerges that her mother had a fling with an officer among the German occupiers during World War II; then infant Katrine was forcibly removed to the Heimatland and placed in an orphanage. She escaped from East Germany to the West in 1969, and now the Berlin Wall has fallen—so everyone ought to be happy, right? Of course not.

Two Lives reveals after 20 minutes that Katrine is/was an East German spy. Her identity may be a sham, but her happy family is not. This is a promising conceit for director Georg Mass to explore, but his movie never gets beyond the obvious. (“I can’t go on lying!” Katrine wails.) Meanwhile, her nefarious old spymasters are still seeking to control her, and a lawsuit about the stolen Lebensborn kids of Norway is bringing new evidence to light. Grainy flashbacks further complicate Katrine’s identity, and these snippets suggest how for movies, at least, living the lie can be more entertaining than exposing the truth.

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