Mata Hari (1985)

Mata Hari is a 1985 film directed by Curtis Harrington produced by Golan-Globus featuring Sylvia Kristel in the title role of exotic dancer Mata Hari, executed for espionage during World War I. The film portrays Mata Hari as an innocent woman manipulated by the secret services of Germany and France into providing intelligence, at first unwittingly and unwillingly, and later driven by the nonpartisan desire to save lives. Eventually she is cynically sacrificed by the French who are aware of her innocence but believe her execution will boost morale.

The film’s convoluted plot is anchored by a fictitious love triangle between Mata Hari and two officers, the French Georges Ladoux (Oliver Tobias) and the German Karl von Bayerling (Christopher Cazenove). Ladoux and Bayerling are personal friends but end up on opposing sides of the war, providing ample opportunity to explore the dramatic tension between honor and personal loyalty on the one hand and patriotism and duty to one’s country on the other. Their ethical dilemma is contrasted to the amoral scheming of the main villain, Dr. Elsbeth Schragmüller (invariably known as Fräulein Doktor), a doctor of psychology and leading operative of German intelligence. Mata Hari’s efforts to thwart Fräulein Doktor’s assassination plot using a concealed bomb are eventually successful but lead her to be captured in deeply compromising circumstances by Ladoux, precipitating her show trial and execution, which Ladoux fruitlessly tries to prevent. The film ends on a melancholy note with the reconciliation of Ladoux and Bayerling after the war.

The casting of the male leads creates an ironic juxtaposition, as Oliver Tobias, who plays a French officer, is actually Swiss German by birth, whereas Christopher Cazenove, who plays a German, is of Occitan French heritage. Like the historical Mata Hari, lead actress Sylvia Kristel is Dutch by birth.

There is a scene in which a man watches Mata masturbate through the keyhole of her hotel room. There is no graphic depiction of Kristel’s genitals, but nevertheless, Harrington insisted that it was a gratuitous scene that the producers forced him to put in the picture.

Actors: Sylvia Kristel