Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jerome Salle
Stars: Gilles Lelouche, Joanna Kulig, Aleksey Gorbunov, Elisa Lasowski, Olivia Malahieude, Daniil Vorobyov, Mikhail Goreyov, Igor Jijiine, Louis-Do de Lencquesai.
This tense French produced chase thriller provides a grim and sobering glimpse into the oppressive nature of Russia under Putin. Kompromat is a Russian word for compromising material which the Russian secret police (the FSB) use to frame enemies of the state for crimes they didn’t commit, to discredit them or destroy them or to blackmail them. This film is based on true events, but it is clear that director Jerome Salle (the French crime drama Anthony Zimmer, etc) and writer Caryl Ferey have taken liberties with the facts in an attempt to bring tension to the material. The pair previously collaborated on Zulu in 2013.
Mathieu Roussel (Gilles Lelouche, recently seen in the WWII drama Farewell Mr Hoffman) is a Frenchman working with the Alliance Francaise in Irkutsk in Siberia. As part of a cultural exchange program he hosts a raunchy dance performance but its challenging content upsets a few top bureaucrats and their displeasure is soon felt. Mathieu lives with his wife Alice (Elisa Lasowski) and his young daughter Alice (Olivia Malahieude). But there is tension between Mathieu and Alice due to recent affair and her desire to return home to France. But one night soon after the controversial performance Russian secret police burst into the house, terrifying Olivia in the process. They arrest Mathieu on charges of sexually abusing his daughter and disseminating child pornography. Mathieu is thrown into a hell hole of a prison.
Borodin (Aleksey Gorbunov) is hired to defend Mathieu but he seems ineffectual, although he does manage to have him released on parole until the court case, which may take months to be heard. In the meantime Mathieu is forced to wear a tracking bracelet, is subject to a curfew and followed whenever he leaves the house. Alice returns to France with Olivia and Borodin secretly advises that Mathieu’s only hope is to ditch the tracking bracelet and somehow make his way out of Russia to safety.
Mathieu receives some help from Svetlana (Joanna Kulig, from Cold War, etc) who works as a translator with the Alliance Francaise. But she is married to Sasha (Daniil Vorobyov), a physically and psychologically damaged veteran of the Chechnyan war effort who is also the son of Rostov, a top-ranking policeman (Mikhail Goreyov).
Svetlana helps Mathieu sneak away from his house and spirits him to Moscow where he finds temporary sanctuary at the French embassy. It is made clear though that his presence is unwelcome and poses a threat to French/Russian relations. Eventually he is forced to make a desperate cross country journey through the harsh frozen wasteland to reach a border and safety. He embarks on a gripping journey fraught with danger as he tries to avoid capture and Salle efficiently ramps up the tension in these sequences.
Kompromat has been atmospherically shot by cinematographers Matias Boucard and Sacha Wiernick, whose use of a dark colour palette adds a foreboding and ominous tone to the material. Although set in Russia the film was shot on location in Lithuania, which apparently has similar looking architecture.
Lelouche is excellent as Mathieu, an essentially decent man caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare that is beyond his experience, and he captures the sense of desperation and determination. He sports a suitably downtrodden expression. Kulig brings a subtly sexy quality to her performance as Svetlana who has to walk a tightrope in her efforts to help Mathieu. Goreyov is intimidating and fearsome as Rostov, while Igor Jijikine is scarily intense as his trusted enforcer Sagarine, who looks as if he has come straight from central casting.