Here are the elements you need to make sense of this film: 1) the initial scene in which a French diplomat tells an anecdote about Yalta which reveals how the big powers "cold-heartedly" disposed of the lives of millions according to the logic of Realpolitik; 2) the character of Bleicher, whose brother fought on the side of the Germans in a French SS unit on the Russian front, was captured, and died in a POW camp in the USSR; Bleicher remains obsessed with retrieving the remains of his brother, while the French State shows little interest in the matter; 3) the characters representing the French Secret Service (Varins & William Mahe'), who were involved in a scheme to smuggle Soviet engineers out of the USSR only to sell them into a kind of techno-slavery to countries interested in their services; 4) the head of one such Soviet engineer who got into some hot water in Sumatra (by putting the head in Mathias' suitcase, Bleicher wants Mathias to embarrass French intelligence). So what you get, in political terms, is a condemnation (rather oblique, admittedly) of big-power politics. So I suppose Desplechins would have been happier if, immediately at the conclusion of WWII, the US had declared war on the Soviet Union, dropped the atom bomb on Moscow, and "liberated" the peoples of Eastern Europe. If that's the director's idea of "humanistic" politics, I'll take Realpolitik any day. One distinctive note in this film: There's not one single character here who is "sympa": not Mathias (too much of a wuss), not his Jewish classmate (captious); certainly not the villains in the French secret service; not Mathias' sister (irritatingly capricious); not the son-of-diplomat diplomat (full of conceit); not even Emmanuelle Devos as Mathias' would-be girlfriend (not worth the trouble wooing her--she fusses much too much).