Triple Agent

Director: Eric Rohmer

France-Greece-Italy-Russia-Spain| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 115 min.

Eric Rohmer’s latest—an espionage drama set in mid-’30s Paris—might seem an anomalous addition to his oeuvre, but it’s soon clear it’s an exquisitely subtle conversation piece that treats his usual themes of love, loyalty, betrayal, trust and suspicion. Fyodor Varodin (Serge Renko), a White Russian general in exile, handles intelligence for a veterans’ association; his Greek wife Arsinoe (Katherian Didaskalou), a painter, pays scant attention to his discussions with friends and neighbours—until she hears he was seen, during a trip ‘to Brussels’ in Berlin. Who is he working for, and why? Does he himself even know?
Inspired by a real unsolved mystery, and making powerful use of newsreel footage, the film ignores the mechanics of spying to focus on the murky ethics, labyrinthine thinking and emotional cost of espionage: when deceit, concealment and conspiracy are the norm, how can one believe anyone or anything? While reflecting on shifts between the Soviets, the Nazis and the French, the film is more concerned with the (wonderfully played) central relationship, which forms the basis for an unusually mature but profoundly poignant love story. As events beyond the couple’s control take over, the ambiguities and ironies of what is a very human drama acquire a tragic force, so that the film takes its place alongside The Lady and the Duke as an admirably complex (and relevant) historical film. Though the account of a marriage eroded by doubt evokes Hitchcock at times, the sheer classical purity of Rohmer’s narrative and images is both beautiful and bracing: the final sequence, especially, is magnificently matter-of-fact in its abrupt cruelty and unsentimental compassion. Magnificent stuff.

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