One-way to Moscow




The leading players please in a work that takes a serious issue as a source for uninspired comedy.

One-way to Moscow


In Switzerland in 1989 there was a huge scandal which led to major reforms in what is now the Swiss Federal Police. What was unearthed back then was a pattern of mass surveillance that largely targeted those of left-wing beliefs and those who had an Eastern European background, a procedure that resulted in a secret archive of 900,000 files. This situation is now depicted on screen in Micha Lewinsky's One-way to Moscow and surprisingly it is approached as material suited to comedy. It is, of course, possible to use humour to mount a blistering attack that is deeply felt and there is one effective scene in this film in which an actress, Odile Lehmann (Miriam Stein), makes a speech at a dinner which initially appears to be endorsing extreme right-wing views until her apparent approval takes on terms that remind one of Hitler.


That may be a telling moment but unfortunately it is an uncharacteristic one since the tone here, as confirmed by an adept music score, is deliberately lightweight. Lewinsky's film shows how a policeman, Viktor Schuler (Philippe Graber), is unofficially sent on a mission to infiltrate a Zurich theatre company suspected of pushing left-wing propaganda. Odile is a star player there and Viktor joins the company under its director Carl Heymann (Michael Maertens) by auditioning successfully as an extra. What follows includes a send-up of directors who when staging a work such as Twelfth Night seek to impose on it their own modern notions of style and interpretation. That might have been fun, but the humour here is more banal than imaginative.


The first half of One-Way to Moscow, which predictably leads to Viktor and Odile falling for one another, may seem rather facile but at least it has two engaging players in Graber and Stein (the latter the somewhat unlikely winner of a Best Actress award for this). But the film's weaknesses increase as it goes on. Never very subtle, the comedy grows ever more preposterous. Thus Viktor, who might just pass as an inexperienced actor suitable to be taken on as an extra, is suddenly promoted to a star role. Subsequently on his first night appearance he inserts his own words into the text aimed at winning back Odile who is feeling betrayed and this disruption is treated by the audience as part of the play and they applaud accordingly.


Such scenes emerge not as imaginative farce but as just see plain silly, especially since at the same time viewers are expected to identify with Viktor and Odile and long for them to get together again. Furthermore, the depiction of the ups and downs of their relationship en route to the delayed happy ending happily resorts to incorporating at the midway point one of the oldest clichés in the book (Viktor is just about to reveal to Odile that he is a policeman when he is interrupted and she then discovers the truth by chance and breaks off their relationship). This is so corny that it could only be saved by being presented tongue in cheek, but One-way to Moscow asks you to believe in it. Some people may welcome such light fare as this in today's climate but, even if Graber is an everyman hero of some appeal and Stein a very attractive presence, I find it strange that such an undistinguished piece should have been nominated for no less than three awards in what are known as the Swiss Oscars. After all the fact that this is a comedy in a theatre setting yet linked to a serious real-life situation invites thoughts of the magnificent 1942 classic To Be or Not to Be and that sets standards that leave this film at the starting gate.


Original title: Moskau Einfach!




Cast: Philippe Graber, Miriam Stein, Michael Maesters, Mike Müller, Peter Jecklin, Sebastian Krähenbühl, Denise Witsch, Stefan Schönholzer, Saladin Hellers, Vera Flück, Ingo Ospelt, Fabian Kruger.


Dir Micha Lewinsky, Pro Anne-Catherine Lang and Olivier Zobrist, Screenplay Plinio Bachmann, Micha Lewinsky and Barbara Sommer, Ph Tobias Dengler, Pro Des Peter Scherz, Ed Bernhard Lehner, Music Ephrem Lüchinger, Costumes Regula Marthaler.


Langfilm-Swipe Films.
99 mins. Switzerland. 2020. Rel: 4 December 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.