“I’m not accepting any favours from the Bolsheviks.”
Loosely based on a true story, director Eric Rohmer’s film Triple Agent cleverly examines the complicated politics of the turbulent years 1936-37 through an unsolved mystery involving espionage. Fyodor Voronin (Serge Renko) is a White Russian who’s part of the emigre community living in Paris in the 30s. He’s a former White general, and he works for the Russian Army Veteran’s Association. While ostensibly he works to assist the former soldiers, part of his job is to prevent soviet agent infiltration. The emigre community is still reeling from the bold 1930 kidnapping of White Russian General Kutyepov. Fyodor’s wife of 12 years, Arsinoe (Katerina Didaskalu) is an artist who has little interest in her husband’s politics. They appear to have a loving marriage–although Fyodor leaves for long periods of time.
This is a dangerous time when even the seemingly simplest conversation can reveal shifting political alliances. Seasoned director Eric Rohmer blends footage of the time with the action of his characters. Against the backdrop of the rise of the Popular Front, and the election of France’s first Socialist Prime Minister, Leon Blum, Arsinoe makes friends with the communist neighbours who live upstairs, and Fyodor isn’t thrilled about this. Arsinoe, as usual, laughs off her husband’s worries, but gradually, she begins to suspect that he’s tangled in a web of international intrigue. Fyodor seems to be remarkably well informed, and this gains him a great deal of respect in many quarters. While he admits he “pulls strings” he refuses to explain just how he gains some of his information.
The Spanish Revolution begins, and with the shifting unrest, Fyodor’s involvement in espionage appears to increase. His confidences to Arsinoe become bolder, and he’s giddy with his own sense of power. To him, espionage is “just a game of chess.” He even anticipates Stalin’s devious involvement with Spain and argues that “Spain is a training ground where you size up your opponents, and you don’t care who wins.” Then news of Stalin’s purges spreads to the emigre community, and soon it’s no longer clear just who Fyodor works for ….
It’s best to come to this film with a sense of the political backdrop of the period as the film covers a vast range of political ideas here–decossackification, the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s purges, Stalin’s meddling in the Spanish Revolution, the Popular Front, Leon Blum, and the rise of the Nazi party. Like all Rohmer films, the action is driven by character and dialogue, and if you’re already a Rohmer fan, you won’t be disappointed in this intriguing film. Special mention here for a great performance from actress Katerina Didaskalu who plays Arsinoe–a woman who is forced into a painful confrontation between love, loyalty and morality.
The DVD includes a documentary that examines the real-life unsolved mystery of General Miller and Nikolai Skoblin. A French historian does a marvelous job of placing the mystery in the context of its time, while the niece of Skoblin argues for her uncle’s innocence–fascinating stuff. In French, Greek, German, and Russian with English subtitles.