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Koch Lorber presents
Triple Agent (2004)

"You say a lot of things to strangers you never say to your wife."
- Arsinoé (Katerina Didaskalou)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 15, 2006

Stars: Serge Renko, Katerina Didaskalou
Director: Eric Rohmer

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:55m:14s
Release Date: January 10, 2006
UPC: 741952307891
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-B-B C+

DVD Review

It's not difficult to see what was so alluring about Paris between the two world wars, and why so many (Joyce, Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and on and on) succumbed to its charms. But aside from being artistically fertile, powerful and dangerous political forces were at play—the unresolved tensions of World War I metastasized, in many respects, into the political and military turmoil of World War II. Eric Rohmer's stylish film attempts to tease out some of these issues in this strange international conundrum—it's more character-driven than a cloak-and-dagger spy piece, which makes it more interesting, in some respects, but so historically loaded in others that you sort of wish that the movie came with its own footnotes.

The action begins in May 1936, with Fyodor (Serge Renko), an expatriate White Russian fighting the forces of Stalinism via espionage, and his lovely wife Arsinoé (Katerina Didaskalou), a melancholy Greek who paints. Much is made of the Menshevik-versus-Bolshevik political tensions; it feels like Rohmer takes too much for granted about our knowledge of international Russian politics from the early part of the last century, and without being too reductive, at times it feels like it's a whole lot of guys with hats and accents. Anyway, Fyodor is necessarily tight-lipped about his professional life—when you're an international spy looking to foment revolution, the wife may not want and probably shouldn't get a candid answer to the question: How was your day, honey? Arsinoé befriends their upstairs neighbors—M. and Mme. Passard are academics and avowed Communists, but initially their neighbor is interested only in painting a portrait of their lovely little daughter.

There are necessary secrets in this marriage, and Arsinoé can't help but wonder if there are in fact more than necessary—is her husband a turncoat, collaborating with the Bolsheviks? Or has he sold out altogether and cut a deal with the Nazis? He can't answer, and understandably doesn't want the topic even to be broached—but in filmmaking terms, it means that we get a lot of long arias from him, not soliloquies, exactly, because she's in the room, but performance pieces of a sort, both for her benefit, and for ours, because they function to provide exposition. So too do the frequent clips from contemporary newsreels, cluing us in to what's going on internationally as Arsinoé battles health issues and tries to figure out if her husband has sold his soul to the Third Reich.

You get the sense that Rohmer is more interested in the emotional journeys of these characters than he is in the skulking spy-versus-spy business, and he's resolutely a man of culture more than one of politics—he lingers over Picasso's Guernica, for instance, seemingly because of its artistic accomplishment, because the point about the tyranny of Franco's Spain is made in just a couple of frames. Similarly, we detour for a scene with a cousin of Fyodor's, once a Russian aristocrat, now a cab driver—he's both pretentious and a little heart-breaking, not unlike the film he's in. It's also a movie with a keen eye for style—the costumes, sets, and production design are lovely, and are often more engaging than the sometimes cumbersome plot.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The transfer has some resolution problems—in one scene a character wears a polka-dotted dress, and it shines horribly. But the colors are generally sharp, if a bit dark.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The audio is reasonable, though with the multilingual cast of characters, you'll be glad that it's subtitled.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The Miller-Skoblin Case (38m:34s) is an informative look at the historical events that inspired the film—the first half features comments from historian Nicolas Worth, the second from Irčne Skobline, the niece of the central figure, and they're both very good on providing political and historical context. The DVD also features links to Koch Lorber's website, and an original French trailer. A word or two about the English subtitles, as well—unfortunately they've got a few typos ("I always loose weight in the spring") and some syntax problems ("He would hid here?" or "He talks to them because he is in the information"), and something hinky with the disc caused them to drop off my screen altogether from time to time.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

In many respects a thinking person's spy movie, or a spy movie for people who don't really like them—it's much more of a character study than a tension-filled tale about undoing the nefarious plan of the other side, but it can also be a little ponderous, and frequently takes too much for granted.

 


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