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Triple Agent (2004)

Directed by:

Eric Rohmer

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 116 minutes

UK Certificate: U

On DVD

Country: France, Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain

With over twenty films to his name, French director Eric Rohmer is best known for his many intimate comedies of manners – but occasionally he has also dabbled in historical dramas ('Die Marquise von O', 'Perceval Le Gallois', 'L'Anglaise et le Duc') – and now he blends both these genres with 'Triple Agent', an intimate tragedy of manners set on the sweeping stage of twentieth century history. Loosely basing his story on a real, if little known, incident in pre-war Paris that has never been fully explained – the 1937 abduction of a General who was President of the (anti-Soviet) Russian War Veterans, and the subsequent disappearance of one of his colleagues, presumed to be a Soviet double agent – Rohmer paints a realistic, but peculiarly inscrutable, portrait of a married couple doomed to become casualties of history.

The recent election of the leftist Popular Front in France, the Spanish civil war and Hitler's rise to power in Germany have sent ripples of confusion through the ranks of the White Russian émigrés in Paris, a marginalised community of also-rans, has-beens and losers who dream in vain of returning to a non-Communist Russia. Only Fyodor (Serge Renko), the slippery chief of external affairs at the Russian Army Veteran's Foundation, seems to know what is really going on in the world, but he makes himself as difficult to read as the cataclysmic shifts in European politics. There is little doubt that he is a spy, but even his wife, a Greek artist called Arsinoé (Katerina Didaskalou), is not sure whether he is working for the White Russians, the Soviet Union, or Hitler – and it is not entirely clear whether Fyodor knows either. Does he really never tell lies to his wife? Is he, as he claims, a key player in world events? Or is he just another deluded exile who, like his colleagues, is fast becoming a dinosaur in the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape?

'Triple Agent' is, like its main character, genteel, arch and full of contradictions, and what seems interesting in it to some viewers will no doubt bore others to death. For it is a spy film in which no spying is ever shown, and its concentrated focus on the relationship between the manipulative agent and his puzzled wife ensures that its international intrigues are played out like a parlour-room drama – or, if you prefer, like any of Rohmer's other, much lighter films. Only the constant discussion of political matters and the authentic newsreel footage that occasionally punctuates the proceedings give any sense that these characters' lives are being swept along by events that are more than merely domestic. Serge Renko plays Fyodor as a grand master of insinuation, equivocation and gossip, who seems to know everything except how to act in his own, and his wife's, best interests – while Katerina Didaskalou's Arsinoé is content to know nothing so long as she can trust her husband. Both are tragic figures whose internal lives are anchored to the external affairs beyond their cocoon of secrets and lies.

It's Got: Mystery, intrigue, espionage, double-dealing and pre-war politics - all filtered through a domestic drama.

It Needs: Perhaps to lose its rather cursory epilogue, which makes for a clunky ending - and the films careful restraint will inevitably bore some viewers.

DVD Extras Enhanced for widescreen TVs; choice of Dolby digital 2.0/5.1; French language with choice of menus and subtitles (French, English, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish); scene selection; The Miller-Skobline Case (38min) a conversation (French, English subtitles) with historian Nicolas Werth and Irène Skobline (niece of Nikolai Skobline, on whom the character of Fyodor is based) in which they discuss the Byzantine politics and Machiavellian double-dealings of 1937, and the true (if murky) case that inspired the film, while Skobline offers a spirited defense of her long-dead uncle against what she sees as a conspiracy between Stalin and the French Popular Front, and Werther concludes "the only winner was Stalin"; original theatrical trailer. Version reviewed: Artificial Eye DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

and, Dr Zhivago, er, LAnglaise et le Duc, True Lies

Summary

A spy film with no spying, whose restraint and intimacy somehow make it both interesting and boring at the same time.

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