Möbius, not Morbius. The Marvel supervillain was still in the uncertain future in 2013 when Eric Rochant wrote and directed this spy thriller set in the chi-chi world of high finance. Also in the future was Rochant’s magnum opus, the brilliant TV series The Bureau (aka Le Bureau des Legendes), for which Möbius can be seen as a dry run.
Though TV had already clearly won the Movies v TV race by 2013, old-school movies still had prestige and many were still being made which, all told, should really have been a TV series. The result is too many films of this era with overstuffed storylines, too many characters, too much event, too much stuff. Not here, Rochant understands which story he’s telling and knows that we know what a spy thriller is all about.
Take the opening shot – the camera comes over a hill to reveal Money Monaco below, a jewel twinkling on another sun-baked day on the Mediterranean, while down below the yachts bob in the harbour. It’s where dirty money and clean money go for a holiday romance. Location established, in we go, to meet Alice (Cécile de France), a disgraced financial whizz forced to work in this gilded cage after some irregularity in the USA – it being 2013, it’s probably the sort of “irregularity” that caused the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. Beautiful, self-assured, smart, and full of savoir faire, Alice makes it her business to connect with Russian oligarch Ivan Rostovsky (Tim Roth) when he comes in to the office one day. Meanwhile, watching from a distance, is a Russian spy called Moïse (Jean Dujardin) – also handsome, self-assured, smart and full of savoir faire – who’s going to use all his god-given talents and spycraft to insert himself between Alice and Rostovsky, beneath the radar of Rostovsky’s gravel-voiced head of security, Khorzov (Aleksey Gorbunov).
The problems start for Moïse when he and Alice – after much flirtation – finally wind up in bed together and he brings her to climax twice. The camera stays on Alice’s face, and with the pair of them, not so much to titillate as to convey that, through sex, the two have unfortunately fallen in love. Badly. This would never happen to James Bond. Or, more to the point, when it does happen to Bond, something bad always follows. Given that Dujardin has a history of playing a 007 spoof in the OSS 117 series, Bond is a deliberate part of Rochant’s mix.
The film then moves Rostovsky, Alice and Moïse through various familiar situations (clandestine meetings in recherché locations, for the most part) while Rochant drops in other scenes set among spymasters – CIA and FSB – the guys who are really pulling the strings. Familiar stuff all. Meanwhile, the mood gradually shifts from casinos and frippery to much darker locales and moods. It gets dark. Spying isn’t a caper, it’s life and death stuff.
Rochant gets a bit stuck on the love stuff, his light touch temporarily deserting him, and the film bogs down for a while only to roar back in the final third when all is revealed – who’s really working for who, who’s a single agent, a double agent, a triple agent – and the metaphor of the endlessly side-switching möbius strip is explained in one of those scenes that seems dropped in to justify the title, neat though the metaphor is.
The cast slot right into roles and do exactly what they’re meant to do – suave Jean Dujardin, sexy and dangerous Cécile de France, devious and super-entitled Tim Roth, while Aleksey Gorbunov bristles like a deadly go-between keeping them all connected.
It’s hard, having watched The Bureau, to see Möbius as anything other than a warm-up for it. The question it asks is exactly the same – what happens when spies fall in love, when work and play mix? – and the team Rochant has behind him is largely the same, including DP Pierre Novion and editor Pascale Fenouillet.
For all that, it’s a better movie than 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy adaptation, precisely because it doesn’t fall into the same trap of trying to force a quart into a pint pot. Metric units available on request.
Möbius – watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022