Secret Agent: Rohmer’s Espionage Thriller Debuts on DVD


Say it ain’t so: Eric Rohmer, perennial fair-haired cineaste of Upper West Side importables, the most lovably French of surviving New Wavers, going straight to DVD? An era already hobbling on splinted pins comes to a close; if Rivette, Godard, and Resnais have long since defied the tastes of educated New Yorkers, Rohmer has always been seductively entertaining and reliably releasable. In his 86th year now, his window may be closing, but it’s worth noting as well that Triple Agent (2004) may be the least romantic film he’s ever made. Beginning with news footage of the Communist-heavy 1936 elections, the movie revisits the Miller- Skobline affair, a tangle of reckless espionage and collateral damage that had White Russian émigrés in Paris double-dealing the Nazis, the Soviets, French Reds, and each other, and which resulted in a kidnapping- execution that finished the White movement for good. Naturally, Rohmer confronts this historical knot as simply as possible—the tale’s “events,” most of them covert crimes and cover stories, happen mostly offscreen, their ramifications and possibilities fleshed out in elegantly staged expository scenes, sometimes as boldly theatrical as a 1950s teleplay, sometimes volleying between visual homages to Rockwell and Vermeer. And naturally, Rohmer views the mess from the perspective of a heart-strong woman: Katerina Didaskalu, as the Skobline character’s sensual, art-devoted wife, who pays the biggest price of all. (The ordinarily introspective Rohmer gab is here a crash course in European politics during the pre-war years.) The tension between political action and personal responsibility (as well as between fact and perception) thrums on every level, and Rohmer’s formal voice is cool and ironic, jump-cutting between scenes and patiently observing the characters try to talk their way out of big continental trouble. Not only is the acting, mostly by Didaskalu and Serge Renko, masterful, but you get to see them handle acres of thought, dialogue, and interaction without interruption. Extras include a trailer and a mini-doc on the history of Skobline’s career.