History Is Made at Night (aka Spy Games). 1999. UK/Finland/France/USA/Germany. Directed by Ilkka Järvi-Laturi. Screenplay by Patrick Amos. Story by Jean-Pierre Gorin, Patrick Amos. With Bill Pullman, Irène Jacob, Udo Kier, Glenn Plummer, Bruno Kirby. In English; Finnish subtitles. 35mm. 95 min.
History is Made at Night stars Bill Pullman and Irène Jacob as Harry and Natasha, two bored spies stationed in the Arctic Circle; he’s CIA, she’s SVR, and they periodically cross enemy lines for one another in a longstanding, on-and-off again love affair. The two must work together in earnest after a shady courier (Bruno Kirby) arrives in Helsinki - ostensibly to attend a condom convention - carrying a porn tape on VHS secretly encoded with American state secrets. An overeager new CIA agent named Dave (Glenn Plummer) arrives in hot pursuit, adding to Harry’s desire to turn his back on spycraft and adopt his cover story, managing a jazz club. What results is equal parts romantic comedy, globetrotting thriller and deadpan send-up of the New World Order ushered in after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Järvi-Laturi’s third and final feature was a classic story behind the scenes: a complex A-list international coproduction, with a young foreign filmmaker facing untold pressure to deliver a hit. The screenplay for History is Made at Night was written by Patrick Amos, who devised the plotline with maverick filmmaker (and longtime Godard collaborator) Jean-Pierre Gorin; the two had previously collaborated on 1986’s Routine Pleasures. Its title a nod to Frank Borzage and the quarreling lovers’ dynamic a clear throwback to the era of screwball mystery comedies, History is Made at Night was misunderstood upon its release. In hindsight, its barbed depiction of ex-Soviet apparatchiks looking to line their own pockets (epitomized by a crazed KGB higher-up played by Udo Kier) is of a piece with the black humor of City Unplugged. Aided considerably by a cozy jazz soundtrack from composer and saxophonist Courtney Pine, History is Made at Night is a work of classic-movie hokum whose scale of production feels like an act of subterfuge unto itself.