Triple Agent is a 2004 French Spy Film, inspired by a true story, written and directed by Éric Rohmer. The then-octogenarian director's second-to-last film, it also marks a rare foray into genre films for him.
1936—Fyodor Voronin (Serge Renko) and his wife Arsinoé (Katerina Didaskalou) live in a Paris apartment. He's a former Czarist general in exile. She's a Greek expatriate, an artist specializing in Slice of Life scenes using real people as models. While Fyodor is ostensibly the chief aide to General Dobrinsky (Dmitri Rafalsky), the head of France's chapter of the Russian All-Military Union, he's actually a spy, a job for which he is well-qualified, with all of his contacts. The question is, who is he spying for? Is he helping his fellow White Russians keep tabs on the leftist movements popping up in Europe, like in France, where Léon Blum and his Popular Front have just won the election? Is he helping the Soviet Union keep an eye on the White Russians? Is he helping Nazi Germany keep an eye on the Soviets? He's not very forthcoming about any of this with Arsinoé, despite their loving marriage. As her health starts to worsen, he starts facing serious choices over his future as his political loyalties and personal loyalties start to clash, while Europe starts moving slowly toward another war.
This film contains examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Fyodor seems like a fundamentally decent person, but as the film goes along we see his moral compass is askew.
- Adaptational Nationality: Russian singer Nadezhda Plevitskaya is fictionalized into Greek artist Arsinoé Voronin, played by Greek actress Katerina Didaskalou.
- Break the Cutie: Arsinoé is a very likeable character whose health goes downhill and whose husband starts behaving dubiously.
- City of Spies: Various nationalities and allegiances running around Paris before World War II.
- Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Fyodor collaborates with Communists and Fascists alike. It's suggested he may not even be sure where his loyalties ultimately lie.
- In the Style of...: Rohmer, who was a respected expert in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, takes many style cues from Hitchcock here, with Sabotage as his most obvious point of reference.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Averted. Arsinoé's tuberculosis affects her bones, so her main symptoms are sharp pains in her leg.
- Iris Out: Rohmer uses one in a key scene.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Fyodor betrays Dobrinsky to the USSR, who ends up betraying Fyodor.
- The Mole: Fyodor, though he's more like a pragmatic type who cooperates with the side that will benefit him the most personally.
- Newsreel: Actual Pathé newsreels from the 30s set up the historical context for the story, reporting on situations like the Popular Front's election in France or the Spanish Civil War.
- Offscreen Villainy: We don't get to see Fyodor's most questionable actions, like meeting with Nazi leaders and tricking Dobrinsky into getting abducted.
- The Purge: Josef Stalin's Great Purge happens during the course of the film, but rather than be repulsed, Fyodor sees an opportunity. As he explains to Arsinoé, Stalin now needs warm bodies to replace those generals he's been killing off, and Fyodor has good qualifications even if he's supposed to be a White Russian.
- Shown Their Work: Rohmer did a huge amount of research for the film, including scenes written in Russian. He also got heavy input from his longtime acquaintance Irène Skobline, the niece of Nikolai Skoblin.
- Signature Style: It's a spy thriller, but it's an Éric Rohmer spy thriller, so it's mostly characters having conversations and working through moral dilemmas.
- Spy Fiction: Stale Beer Flavored, for sure, with the moral issues surrounding Fyodor's espionage being the main driving force of the plot.
- Unreliable Narrator: Arsinoé is the Audience Surrogate who seems like she's in the dark about what Fyodor is doing, but at the end we find out that her past isn't totally clean either..
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: It's a fictionalized account of Nikolai Skoblin, his wife Nadezhda Plevitskaya, and his White Russian boss Yevgeny Miller. Skoblin oversaw the kidnapping of Miller to Russia, then disappeared himself, with his wife convicted of conspiracy and sent to prison, where she died. The disclaimer at the beginning admits that it's based on real events, but takes dramatic liberties with them. Rohmer definitely earned extra points for casting Serge Renko, who looks almost exactly like Skoblin◊.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: The newsreels give some Infodumps, but still you need to be well-informed about the situation in Europe leading up to World War II to fully understand what's happening in the film. Prior knowledge of the Skoblin-Miller affair doesn't hurt either. And since it's a Speech-Centric Work, you also need to pay attention to the dialogue.