Based loosely on the real-life story of the World War I spy. The exotic dancer uses her contacts in European high society, along with her seductive charm, to collect military secrets during... See full summary »
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Based loosely on the real-life story of the World War I spy. The exotic dancer uses her contacts in European high society, along with her seductive charm, to collect military secrets during the war. She successfully plays both sides against each other until at last her deceptions catch up with her. Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <email@example.com>
Nothing but a soft-porn version of the life of a mythical spy
This is a ridiculous biopic about the real, incredibly beautiful belly dancer, master spy, Javanese princess etc. Mata Hari, a supposed spy for the Germans, executed by the French in 1917. The movie tries to redeem her, but only makes her pathetic. She would definitely have been all but forgotten today, had she not been shot for espionage. If she was indeed guilty, and in that case for what, is a complex issue, considerably more so than the film in question. Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in 1876 in Leeuwarden, Holland, by Dutch parents. Under the artist name of Mata Hari she made a comet career as an "exotic dancer" in lavish settings with a less than genuine Indian/oriental touch. She was said to be the daughter of a Brahman priest; or something similar -- all make-believe promotional bullshit, made possible by her dark eyes, hair and complexion (though she wouldn't have fooled nearly as many in Jakarta or Bombay as in Paris, of course). She did, however, have a connection to Java (then part of the Dutch empire), having lived there 1897-1902. What about her great looks and great dancing? When Greta Garbo did her part (in the all but fictional movie which probably have contributed more than anything else to the general image of Mata Hari) she was 26 years old and looked like
well - like Garbo. Sylvia Kristel was 33 in the trash in question.
The gift of Margaretha Zelle never was great looks as much as charisma and sex appeal. At her execution in 1917 she was 41, and had her dancing well behind. Most of the dancing took place in 1905-06, then the assignments gradually became fewer and worse paid, until 1915. She now lived on her lovers. Her living standards varied considerably despite her international fame; sometimes she spent months at the best hôtels of Paris, sometimes she survived on quite limited means - sometimes simultaneously. Downright prostitution did occur, though she never accepted any customers whatsoever. (Her preference for men in uniform - rather a poor officer than a rich banker, as she put it - would contribute to her end.) In the genuine jet set, she was a temporary visitor. As far as dancing is concerned she was an autodidact, and her shows had really nothing to do with anything one can find in the Middle East, India or Southeast Asia. The point of marketing herself as a native woman of class who shared the ancient culture of the Orient etc. was that the nobility (men and women alike) for the first time ever could sit and watch someone undress. That would also be her lasting (?) contribution; to make strip tease acceptable. The words mata hari literally means "the eye of the day", compounded to matahari (she also spelt it "Mata-Hari") it means, literally, "sun" in Indonesian (similar meanings in related languages like Malayan); today it's also the name an Indonesian supermarket chain. Her first artist name was "Lady MacLeod" after a supposed lord father, and it didn't disappear from the posters until 1912, when the real MacLeod (her former husband) sued her. In August 1916, Captain Ladoux, head of the French counterespionage, told her that the British considered her a German spy. He didn't believe them, he said, but wondered if she would like to work for the Republic? She eventually accepted; a single mission on the highest level, for the mind-boggling price of one million franc. On her way to Belgium and her supposed mission, she was arrested by the British who took her for another spy. After her release, she had to go to Madrid, and that's essentially where her entire career as a spy took place, during two weeks in December 1916. For a start, she contacted the German embassy to gain their trust - she was to turn into a double agent. That the name of Mata Hari has become synonymous with a master spy is definitely a factoid, considering her very short career as well as her very limited skills in the craft (even when compared to her colleagues), not to say naïvety. (Like when she attempted to discuss her mission in clear in ordinary mail or over a plain telephone, or when she refused to use invisible ink.) The German military attaché obviously found this out within minutes. Mata Hari apparently didn't understand she had been revealed, but returned to Paris, happy with the (worthless) intelligence she thought she had fooled out of the attaché. The problem was that Mata Hari had indeed accepted to work for the Germans. In May 1916 she accepted the payment of twenty thousand francs (for services delivered, as the prosecution would later claim) which at the time was a small fortune. She insisted that she wanted to fool Germany of the money as payment for some furs she earlier had lost due to the involvement of that nation, and that she never gathered any intelligence for them. If she actually got the money for nothing, it would explain why the Germans had aggressions toward a useless agent, instead of feeding her with disinformation. But was it true? The court didn't believe her, in particular since they never got to see all the evidence, nor did they hear some key witnesses who could have defended Mata Hari. She was executed at October 15, 1917. It's worth noting that no German spies have claimed that Mata Hari was part of their organization but actually denied it . Whether she was a mythomaniac, Public Relations-minded, naif or simply had bad memory - or all of it - it's a fact that many of the myths that surround her were of her own fabrication.
5 of 11 people found this review helpful.
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