I think ‘Mean Girls’ is my favourite American film of the year, and one of my favourite ever teen movies. Like ‘Cruel Intentions’ it has an 18th century feel which I probably why I also relate it to Eric Rohmer, whose latest, ‘Triple Agent’, is an absolute hoot. Rohmer made his name by co-authoring with Claude Chabrol the first serious study of Hitchcock’s films; but while Chabrol’s suspense films clearly owe much to the big man, Rohmer’s, which, like CC’s, sort of fell into a somewhat cosy pattern circa 1969 (CC: bourgeois families not as stable as they look! ER: this is why they gave cupid wings, see!), belong more to the tradition of Laclos. ‘Triple Agent’ takes the typical Rohmer set-up (‘photographs of people talking’) and scandalously substitutes discussions of international power politics for the usual discourse on the meandering ways of the heart.
The time is 1936-7, the place Paris, and the Popular Front is falling apart on the issue of intervention in Spain, threatened from within and without by the Nazis and their Cagoulard avant-garde. Our White Russian protag has to ratiocinate his way out of being killed by Stalin’s agents — the film could as easily have been made as ‘Sabotage’ by Hitchcock. But there are no bombs on buses: it’s all talk.
The film is funny partly in itself: it’s about the little ironies, like the preference of Whites and Russian Stalinists alike for non-modern representational art, as against the French Stalinist Left. No doubt it’s also funny because Rohmer doing a spy film is a funny idea (S&S front page ‘License to Talk’ nails it). But the film is also the most intelligent political film of the year: politics-as-motivation has always been weak in the cinema, with right-wing directors unable to think outside the individualist box, but with the concept of allegiance to causes on the left remaining a somewhat romantic concern rarely made convincing. Here the way politics is mediated through other loyalties is captured acutely. Never falling prey to psychologism, only the absense of Lindsay Lohan keeps it from minor masterpiece status.