While not quite a “Notorious” F.L.O.P., French spy thriller and Hitchcock wannabe “Mobius” struggles to suggest why its central pair of lovers would want to be together beyond physical compatibility and plot necessities. Gallic helmer Eric Rochant latest espionage story, after 1994’s Cannes competish title “The Patriots,” casts Jean Dujardin as a stubbly Russian mole who falls head over heels for Cecile de France’s sexy Franco-American trader, someone who’s so good, she single-handedly brought down Lehman Bros. The pic’s local Feb. 27 release opened decently, but its Europudding execution won’t help its international prospects.
Produced with backing from Luc Besson’s Europacorp, this Euro big-budgeter looks pretty slick, though no amount of fancy French Riviera locations can compensate for the screenplay’s bowl-of-spaghetti plotting, which is far more convoluted than the titular strip.
Dujardin is Gregory Lioubov, a Russian secret agent who’s stationed in sunny yet sinister Monaco to keep an eye on a suspicious Russian businessman, Rostovsky (Tim Roth). He’s also being watched by Alice (Cecile de France), a star trader of mixed French-American parentage who’s also been recruited to spy on the industrialist.
Just as in Hitchcock’s spy romance “Notorious,” mixed with a dash of the director’s French/Russian undercover yarn “Topaz,” the spooks fall for each other, even as Rostovsky tries to hit on Alice as well. The scene in which the trader and Gregory, the latter posing as a French literary editor, first meet is played just right, with the two measuring each other across the room before finally making some small talk.
The pic’s reliance on glances rather than words serves to illustrate the primarily physical attraction of the couple, though Rochant’s zooms and pans in this scene especially feel like something from the 1990s (perhaps not coincidentally when the helmer made “The Patriots”).
But as the undercover lovers fall in lust, and sweatily and breathlessly consummate their relationship on multiple occasions, one would expect there would be a growing emotional bond between the two that would necessitate something like a regular conversation. That this fails to materialize suggests that either both are heartless sex addicts or people for whom a purely physical relationship is enough to stay together. Either option leaves their characters hard to care for.
Elsewhere, Rochant tries to compensate for the lack of non-sexual tension by overly complicating the rest of the intrigue, which also involves a duplicitous Monaco Financial Police officer (Emilie Dequenne) who likes to meet Alice in a sauna; and the CIA, seen in some laughably bad scenes in which U.S. smallscreen stars (Wendell Pierce, John Lynch, Brad Leland) are called upon to keep straight faces while uttering embarrassingly generic, F-bomb-laden dialogue.
In an effort to make local auds forget about the all-smiles undercover agent he played in the genre-pastiche “OSS 117” films, Dujardin tries hard to look brooding, but fails to bring much else to the table, including the necessary Russian — supposedly Gregory’s mother tongue. De France fares better in an unusually feminine and assertive role, though Alice is also stuck with some terrible dialogue in both French and English. Roth, as an English-accented Russian ruffian, and Dequenne have little more than glorified walk-on roles.
Though the lighting lacks finesse, production values are generally high, with the locations that appropriately scream bad-taste nouveau riche. Music choices, such as a song by the Red Army Choir, are a little stale and on-the-nose, just like the French-Riviera clubs where the characters hang out.
Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles, Paris, Feb. 28, 2013. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Special Screenings; Berlin Film Festival — market.) Running time: 108 MIN.
A Europacorp. release of a Reci Films, Axel Films presentation and production, in association with Les Prods. du Tresor, Europacorp., France 3 Cinema, JD Prod, Artemis Prods., Samsa Film, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions, 13eme rue. (International sales: Europacorp, Paris.) Produced by Mathias Rubin, Eric Juherian, Christophe Cervoni. Co-producers, Jani Thiltges, Patrick Quinet, Christophe Lambert, Marc Dujardin, Daniel Goudineau.
Directed, written by Eric Rochant. Camera (color, widescreen, 35mm-to-HD), Pierre Novion; editor, Pascale Fenouillet; music, Jonathan Morali; production designer, Philippe Chiffre; costume designer, Carine Sarfati; sound (Dolby SRD), Marc Engels; visual effects supervisor, Claude Kongs; line producers, Stephane Quinet, Roman Kindrachuk, Alex Orlov; associate producer, Alain Attal; assistant director, Marc Baraduc.
(French, Russian, English dialogue)