Eric Rohmer will undoubtedly sustain in cinema history as a unique writer and director of French films. He is far more interested in dialogue, conversation among his characters, and ideas than he is in plot or storyline development. His films affect many as too didactic, too much like a lecture series on current events or historical events to be considered a movie. Perhaps that is the case, as watching a Rohmer film takes total concentration and thinking.
Such is the case for his 2004 TRIPLE AGENT. Set in Paris of 1936-37, it is essentially a re-thinking of a true story that about a spy, a bit of history that is still unsolved. To understand this film requires a working knowledge of the political movements intertwining during the time: France's Popular Front, Hitler's rising influence in Europe, the Stalinist era, the Spanish Civil War with Franco and his adversaries, etc. The mix is all placed in the thoughts and discussions of Fyodor Voronin (Serge Renko), his Greek painter wife Arsinoé (Katerina Didaskalu) and their interactions with the changing people of the political ploys (played with sincere verve by Cyrielle Claire, Grigori Manukov, Dimitri Rafalsky, Nathalia Krougly, Amanda Langlet, Jeanne Rambur, Georges Benoît, Emmanuel Salinger among the large and confusing cast). The 'story' emerges from Fyodor's relationship to the political leanings that pull his attention away from Arsinoé and the complications of his physical structure with his intense involvement in the political and ideological climes.
The film works for those with enough savvy to catch all the intrigues of that period in European history. But for a film so completely dependent on rhetoric and smart dialogue this project suffers greatly from the poor subtitles: while most of the French is translated for us, much of the Russian and German is not, as though we all have access to those languages. The result is a static, dry, intense film in which much is lost due to technical flaws. The cast is excellent but the editing and clarity of each character's role falls by the wayside far too often. Rohmer's genius is there, but it is an acquired taste. Would that the viewer had the background knowledge somehow supplied to support the fine story that is being related! Grady Harp, December 06