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Triple Agent
cast: Katerina Didaskalou, Serge Renko, Amanda Langlet, Emmanuel Salinger, Cyrielle Clair

writer and director: Eric Rohmer

110 minutes (U) 2002
widescreen ratio 16:9
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail
[released 4 April]

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Fyodor Alexandrovich (Serge Renko), a former General with the White Army, is a prominent figure in the Russian Army Veterans Association based in Paris where he lives with his Greek wife, Arsinoe (Katerina Didaskalou). They had fled the Bolsheviks, but 1936 Paris is a politically charged environment and nobody is outside the reach of a determined foe or oppositional faction. The French Communists have doubled their membership to one and a half million in four years and the Radical Socialists are on the rise in the District 10 polls. Fyodor tells Arsinoe little as to the extent of his work and she enquires of it less. He purports to know everyone and everything, at the same time that he is suspicious of everyone of their ability to pry, report and reveal him. Paranoia is rife. Fyodor fears abduction and being made one of the 'disappeared', as was the case with a former associate. He is uncertain were the greater danger lies though, in Stalin, the Nazis or the indigenous social factions.

Fyodor is unfazed and egocentric and in rare moments of excitement admits to decision-making that affects the balance of power, perhaps globally. In truth any one raised fist contributes to that in times of political upheaval, but a displaced bourgeois like Fyodor would disagree with such a 'plebeian' notion. The Triple Agent title comes from a jest made by Fyodor about himself, a joke seemingly true, playing the three sides off of one another. The Veterans Association opposes Communism and the coming pogroms but have a cash crisis that sees Fyodor nipping into Berlin to have money movements approved by the Nazis. He tells his wife how he deplores the Nazis and how he will never serve them. It is an admission apparently designed and effectively so to produce a rare small fit of emotion in his wife, tears of gladness. But when Dubrovsky, another prominent member of his Association, is also abducted, Fyodor is indisputably central to the crime and one final terrible act of betrayal is yet to be committed.

Based on the true Miller-Skobline case, Rohmer goes for a dull blend of political polemic, parlour drama, biopic, and spy genre. It is still distinctly a Rohmer film, the camera meandering as the people meander, and a staircase taking as long to mount as a staircase takes to mount. The camera is intimate, comprised predominantly of medium shots, and there is the interpersonal situation that we expect of this director. Sadly, the most interesting part of this story is that interrelationship, yet here it has to contend with the politics, history and, contrary to the factual basing, an unconvincing spy tale. It may well be a true story but it is made incredible by the relaxed air of all of the characters during what should be an exciting if not terrifying time for them. The film is done absolutely no service by the inclusion of news footage updating us on everything from District 10 Polls and the 1937 change of cabinet to the World Expo of 1937. The people in the footage are more alive, jittery, empowered, real. Most of Triple Agent takes place in rooms. The only major exterior sequence is a cheat of an establishing shot early in the film as Fyodor travels to work. The street is high and the buildings clean, the spotlessness again contradicting the newsreel. The street has a quiet of daybreak to it but as Fyodor appears to be the last to arrive at an already busy office it is an unconvincing start to his journey. It is merely a failed device to try and persuade an audience that this is not bound by its budget to drawing rooms.

Arsinoe is ultimately revealed to be his foil. Her failure to enquire, the language barriers, her homeliness are all carefully considered and shopped for elements to his detailed plan. Fyodor plays her as he plays everyone and when the game is up the dastard will strand her having incriminated the doting wife in his espionage. Even more cruelly, as she rots and dies in prison, it is latterly revealed that he was never that far away. She has before her final fate, honoured and obeyed her husband. She has engaged in traditional arts of which her husband approves but weighed logically the arguments of all political sides and believes that the communist neighbours have the best intentions at foolish heart. Fyodor deplores the neighbours' opposition to revolution on the grounds of a likely failure or 'abortion' that would "surely end in repression." Fyodor is a risk-taker and a player who believes only in fight and riches, and none of this all men are equal crap. Hypocritically, he accuses others, the Nazis, of a dislikeable "grubby, grasping mentality." He approves only of his own grubby, grasping and destructive mentality.

If the Miller-Skobline case should be covered, then it should be done so in a documentary form. This is an unconvincing and shambling film. I recall the local film society once screening Ken Loach's Land And Freedom and the political round table dialectics driving a third of the audience out of the theatre. Triple Agent would probably drive out a half the same audience. In this format I don't care a jot about the history and the story. The smaller affair of the interaction of neighbouring families in a political environment several years ahead of a terrible occupation would have been a more rewarding half-fiction.

Extras come in the form of the trailer, a trademark Rohmer trailer, misleadingly so, given the resulting film, and a 40-minute double interview with Nicolas Werth, a historian, and Irene Skobline, the niece of Nikolai Skobline, the original triple agent. When you have heard Werth, in recounting the history, declare "as everyone knows" and 'of course' before every one of his drudging historical statements, you really will have no more interest in an age and a happening that is clearly more interesting and important than this.

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