In Nicolas Saada’s Espion(s), as in recent polyglot, global games of hopscotch like Tarantino’s Inglourious Bastards, Assayas’ Carlos, Godard’s Film Socialisme, and in some ways, Petzold’s Yella, the double life of spies—personal vs. professional, nation vs. nation, past vs. present—becomes the nature of everyday life in international business. There is no personal in these movies: only a public space, furnished suite, whose host of TV stations determines the characters’ consciousness and movie’s own. Players of crime become pawns, actors and functionaries, even, in Petzold/Assayas/Godard in their free time in chrome hotel rooms and labyrinthine hallways.
In Espion(s) a baggage swindler burns alive at the touch of a diplomatic pouch to Damascus and, in genre logic, his French partner is inducted into an English spy ring to filch info off a billionaire’s hard drive by seducing his wife: the story is, for once, important in a necessary absence of character motivation or authorial effect, as events take focus for their everyday locations (metro, airport, parking lots, offices) and off-hand revelations. Camera movement—handheld, peripatetic, with an Assayas pretense of tag-along and floating splays of streetlights, with piano, as characters seem lost even to themselves—wouldn’t be so different from Salt, with its reflecting glass surface, except that here every shot is operative. Not Realism nor Assayas allegory, the movie’s less like its allusions, Spione and Mabuse (which propagate entire worlds in chain-linked units as director-surrogate characters invoke them) than the Hollywood Fritz Lang of Ministry of Fear—and the video games that seem to have legitimized these close-up mad-dashes through foreign worlds: the protagonist, and the movie with him, becomes an unfolding vector with the illusion of free time and free will through a closed world inscribed by the possibilities of real places and the technologies of the time.