‘Kompromat’ Review: Escape From Siberia

In this thriller, a French diplomat takes to the road after being falsely imprisoned by Russian authorities.

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By Teo Bugbee

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The French thriller “Kompromat” dramatizes the true story of Yoann Barbereau, a Frenchman living abroad in Russia who escaped the country in 2017 after being imprisoned under false charges. In the fictionalized version of events, Mathieu (Gilles Lellouche) works at a French cultural institution in Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Russian Siberia. In his joie de vivre, Mathieu hosts a ballet as a show of diplomatic good will. But the erotic nature of the ballet runs him afoul of local authorities, including agents in the Russian Federal Security Service, known for continuing the practices of the once dreaded K.G.B.

Suddenly, Mathieu is arrested under fabricated accusations of child pornography and abuse. Mathieu is assigned an attorney who negotiates his release from prison into house arrest. Trapped at home, he awaits trial with dwindling hopes of intervention from the French government. Mathieu’s desperation grows, and this thriller takes a turn toward action when he acquires a phone from a friendly contact and takes to the road, staying in safe houses en route to the French embassy in Moscow. But there, Mathieu finds little support for his release, and so he looks again to escape, this time with the European border in mind.

The director Jérôme Salle shows interest in the realpolitik of Mathieu’s situation, and his film scopes out the grim safe rooms and fluorescent meeting halls where Russian political schemes and French political failures take place. But Salle’s approach leaves the physical details of Mathieu’s escape foggy. It’s not always clear how long Mathieu spends in hiding, or how he acquires the tools needed to sustain his flight. The politics confound the film’s sense of action; the camera sticks to the diplomats even after the protagonist has escaped from a back door.

Not rated. In French and Russian, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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