A woman is center frame and looking at the camera. She is bundled up and holding her jacket together as if she is very cold. She is wearing a red hat. Her gaze is piercing, and she looks intense.

Film Review: Kompromat

Film Reviews

Director: Jérôme Salle

Magnet Releasing
Now Streaming

Kompromat is a Russian word for compromising information used to blackmail or discredit a person or group, often for political purposes. Sometimes, kompromat is verifiable information, but other times it’s not always so clear. Such is the case in Jérôme Salle’s Kompromat, a film loosely based on the true events of Yoann Barbeau, a Frenchman who made a harrowing 14-month escape from Russia after the government found him guilty for several crimes.

Things move quickly for Matthieu (Gilles Lellouche) and his family when he arrives in the frigid Siberian city of Irkutsk. He is welcomed by the locals as the new director of the French Alliance, an organization dedicated to bringing French culture to the remote city—what could go wrong? Matthieu, in his naivety, hosts an evening of what might be the most visually stunning part of the film, an erotic ballet lit up a dark red glow. The tension peaks as the two men, intertwined in each other’s bodies, share a kiss. In the audience, gasps can be heard, but among them sit members of the Russian Federal Service or F.S.B. a rebranded version of the infamous K.G.B. and they’re pissed—again, what could go wrong? To make things worse, shortly after the debacle at the ballet Mathieu is caught fraternizing with Svetlana (Joanna Kulig), who happens to be the daughter of a prominent F.S.B. leader. Suddenly Matthieu is arrested, thrown in a harsh Russian prison and charged with crimes he’s allegedly never committed.

Now, this is where the story gets a bit muddy. Much like the details of the true story, you are never really certain about the details in Kompromat. Unfortunately, it’s never clear what exactly got Matthieu into hot water with the F.S.B., and you can only assume from the couple of incidents presented in the first act. The heightened pace does allow for the pressure to build but never a moment to empathize with the characters. For example, we don’t know much about Matthieu’s relationship with his wife (who is not to be confused with Svetlana) apart from one scene where she expresses her desire to leave Russia and go back to France. Shortly after Matthieu’s imprisonment, she moves in with their daughter back in France and confirms the charges against Matthieu. You can’t help but wonder, was his wife in on it all along?

The romance between Matthieu and Svetlana grows as she takes on the role of his accomplice. They meet in secret to exchange information, tips and even fleeting looks of love. However, much like other relationships in the movie, their relationship lags. I never felt invested in them as a couple simply because I was still wondering about the unanswered questions surrounding Matthieu and his wife in their relationship. How could he move on so quickly? 

Despite the underdeveloped relationships, Kompromat is a compelling spy thriller that hones the genre elements. The story could have held up on its own just fine without the contrived and dull romance, but Kompromat is definitely worth a watch if you’re looking for a gripping little thriller. –PJ

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