The Reel Review
When a French diplomat living in the Siberian city of Irkutsk is falsely framed and placed under house arrest by the FSB, Russia’s modern-day equivalent of the KGB, he decides his only hope for survival is to make a daring escape and flee the country. This thriller starring Gilles Lellouche is based on the incredible two-and-a-half-year saga of Yoann Barbereau, who finally escaped from Russia in November 2017.
What makes Kompromat so terrifying is the oppressive realism of much of the film, which spotlights the terrible authoritarian power of corrupt government officials who can arbitrarily ruin an individual’s life on a whim. Set to a dreary, bleak wintry backdrop, director Jérôme Salle (Zulu, Anthony Zimmer) uses flashbacks to explore the multitude of reasons why our protagonist Mathieu may have been targeted. Lellouche gives a convincing performance as our man on the run, as does Joanna Kulig (Hanna, Cold War) as Svetlana, the daughter-in-law of the local FSB official and Mathieu’s eventual romantic interest. Svetlana’s prior, one-time meeting with Mathieu and a lingering disgust towards Russian authorities are his only real hope for escape.
The film uses some clever storytelling and well-placed red herrings to maintain suspense, while also painting a critical portrait of cowardly French government officials fearful of helping Mathieu escape Russia. The film’s only two real detractions are frustratingly scant detail of how our protagonist coordinated his escape (see hyperlink in REEL FACT #1) and some distractingly far-fetched moments in the final act that feel thrown in purely for the sake of entertainment. Still, Kompromat is a harrowing watch, given the story’s nightmarish, Kafkaesque vibe.
• Kompromat was inspired by the incredible two-and-a-half-year long saga of Yoann Barbereau, the former director of the local Irkutsk branch of the Alliance Française. After spending nearly three months in incarceration and another eight months under house arrest on trumped up charges of pedophilia, Barbereau fled to the French Embassy in Moscow, where he lived for a year in hiding, before crossing a swamp on foot into Estonia in November 2017.
• When writer/director Jérôme Salle failed to acquire the rights of Barbereau’s book, he fictionalized the film into a romantic thriller which Barbereau has criticized as cartoonish and unbelievable.
• Kompromat was filmed in Lithuania during the COVID pandemic.