Is It Worth Importing Eric Rohmer's Masterful Triple Agent?

Eric Rohmer kept making films right up to his death at age 90 in 2010.  It may not be the most popular opinion, but it's my contention that his final films are some of his very best.  One of his last, Triple Agent, was released theatrically around the world in 2004, and on DVD in 2005 as a new release.  Here in America, we got it from Koch Lorber.  In the UK, they got it from Artificial Eye, and in France they got it from Blaq Out (apparently the exact same disc as the Artificial Eye one, right down to the menus).  I remember thinking back then that I absolutely had to import this title, which I did, because the US DVD was inferior.  But now, comparing them in 2017, is there a substantial difference?  They're both fullscreen, have the same extras.  Is it worth the hassle of importing?
Triple Agent is a wonderful film that I'm always freshly impressed with each time I revisit it.  No spoilers, but the epilogue blows me away every time.  But as is typically the case with Rohmer, it's not for everybody.  Yes, it's a spy film based on a true, unsolved mystery.  It's a matter of life and death, but there are no gun fights or wry one-liners whispered by people dressed as cat burglars while hanging off of window ledges.  Triple Agent a very domestic look at a real life incident following the Russian civil war in Paris in the 1930s as tensions of rose over another pending World War, but the story is in the humanity of its characters.  Your teenager will hate how everybody stands around calmly debating fine art, and all the tension is kept hidden beneath the surface.  But if your antenna is attuned to finer subtleties, then oh shit!  What a thoroughly gripping tale, expertly told by Rohmer with just a taste of vintage newsreel footage and a terrific cast of actors.
Now, you might be wondering why should we be concerned with old DVDs of this title, regardless of how good the film is?  Wasn't Triple Agent included in Potemkine Films 2013 massive 52-disc blu-ray boxed set [pictured right] that restored Rohmer's entire filmography?  Well, yes, but...  First of all, that set sells for roughly $300, and we're not all living in that affluent tax bracket.  But much more critically, Triple Agent is one of Rohmer's three final films that Potemkine, for whatever reason, decided not to restore and release on blu-ray.  It's in the set only as a DVD using the same old master.  Don't ask me why; it was shot on 35mm, after all.  It's one of the set's most frustrating aspects, right alongside their neglecting to translate any of their special features for English-speaking audiences.  So yeah, as much as they probably should be, these old DVDs are far from obsolete in 2017; they're still the best options we've got.

Oh, Artificial Eye has also included Triple Agent in their 2010 The Essential Eric Rohmer 4-disc DVD set.  But packaged together or separately, it's the same disc inside.
Koch Lorber's US DVD on top; Artificial Eye's UK DVD below.
Since these are the best we've got, let's make the best selection we can.  Yes, both DVDs are fullscreen (Rohmer seemed partial to fullscreen framing, anyway, so that ratio may not be so controversial in this case) and seem to be using the same master, but there's more to it once we begin dig in.  First of all, Koch's DVD is 1.33:1, while Artificial Eye's is 1.31:1.  Koch has a bit more along the sides, possibly including a tiny bit too much on the left (look at that first set of shots, is that the edge of the matte?), while AE has a sliver more along the top.  Still, big whoop.  More distracting, however, is the unsharpening tool [fun fact: despite its name, unsharpening is meant to make an image look sharper] Koch seems to have used on their transfer, blowing out fine highlights and edges.  It may be less of a crime on a DVD than a blu-ray, just because the image is necessarily always going to be further from a perfect representation of the original film; but it still looks unnatural and unattractive on the US DVD, especially on larger televisions.
Both DVDs include the original French audio in a nice, clean Dolby Stereo 2.0 track.  Artificial Eye also offers an additional 5.1 mix.  That's interesting, but not as interesting as the subtitle situation.  Both DVDs offer optional/ removable English subtitles.  That's a basic necessity and good it's there.  Artificial Eye also includes Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish subtitles, which is nice if you speak those languages.  But more puzzling to me was the last subtitle track: French?  HoH subtitles for French viewers, you might think?  No.  In fact, they don't subtitle 95% of the film.  They only pop up a few times, when characters speak Russian and/or German?  So French viewers can read the few lines of dialogue they don't recognize when spoken, sure.  What's odd about that?
Well, the English subtitles (yes, on both discs - I checked) don't subtitle these lines at all.  We never learn what's being said in those moments.  And that may be appropriate, just like how Saving Private Ryan doesn't subtitle the surrendering German soldiers at the end of the beach invasion.  The audience is meant to identify with the man characters who don't understand the other language being spoken.  Makes sense, a natural assumption; except French viewers do get those lines subtitled.  So are we supposed to or not?  Is this just a failing of all English translations of this film to date?  Since native viewers did get the translation, I suspect it is.  ...And by the way, if you're wondering, I ran the French subs of the untranslated dialogue pictured above through Google's software, and in that moment, he's roughly saying, "in turn case, it is very well informed.  He has never been mistaken in his picks," which does make a little more sense in context.  😉
For extras, both DVDs offer the same thing: The Miller-Skobline Case featurette.  It's a nearly 40-minute interview with a historian and the niece of the film's titular triple agent, who talk about the actual case and theorize on what really happened.  Irene Skobline also talks about how Eric Rohmer reached out to her and how she then consulted on the film.  But for the most part, the talk is about the real case, with Skobline and her family devoted to clearing her uncle's name, and Nicolas Werth giving a more objective run-down of the historically known facts.  It should definitely satisfy viewers who watched the film and came away wondering what really happened, but it doesn't give us much about the filmmaking.  The only other extra, again on both discs, is the original theatrical trailer.
Triple Agent is like the anti-John Wyck, but for the right audiences, it's another Rohmer masterpiece.  And between the two discs, the Artificial Eye is the objectively superior option (or, again, the French DVD from Blaq Out, since it's identical).  But whether the that makes it worth jumping through the hoops of importing is up to each of you.  The extra French subtitles were a neat discovery; but they're still not very useful unless you're prepared to translate them on your own.  And the foreign PQ is better, but both DVDs come up lacking in the modern, HD era.  Criterion?  Arrow Academy?  Somebody want to help us out with these three final films?

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