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aka - Affaire Farewell, L'
France 2009
Directed by
Christian Carion
113 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Synopsis: During the final days of the Cold War when Leonid Brezhnev was the last of the old school communist presidents and former B-grade actor Ronald Reagan was his American equivalent a KGB officer Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica), disillusioned by the state of Russian communism began feeding extensive secret intelligence to Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), a young French engineer living in Moscow

is classifiable as a spy thriller but unlike its English language equivalents it is less about thrills and edge-of-your-seat action than a study of personal ethics and the machinations of political power. This has disappointed some reviewers who perhaps wanted for Le Carré-like plotting but the film, if perhaps speaking more loudly to people who can remember the Cold War years, will satisfy anyone looking to engage with a substantial human drama. That director and scriptwriter Christian Carion delivers it with fine craftsmanship is a bonus.

Stepping out from behind the camera, Serbian director Emir Kustarica is the film’s linch-pin, giving a substantial performance as the obdurately idealistic Gregoriev, a man largely indifferent to his personal well-being but passionate about his sense of justice. Although this is his abiding concern, in the main sub-theme of the film we also learn that he is torn by his deteriorating relationship with his son, Igor (Evgenie Kharlanov), who perceives his father as little more than a lackey of the State (and as the film progresses, a chronic fraud). Guillaume Canet has a less prominent role as the ordinary Joe who Gregoriev selects as his mule, shipping top secret documents to Paris and returning with the occasional trophy such as a Sony Walkman but given his brief he acquits himself well.

The film opens in 1981 and one of its winning features is the way that it re-creates pre-Perestroika Moscow, skilfully using Stalinist neo-classical buildings and social realist public statuary and in the case of Gregoriev’s apartment, kitsch interior decoration, to embed the unfolding events.  Although these are quite serious, Carion leavens proceedings with early 80s pop music, in one amusing scene having Igor, a huge Queen fan, mime "We Will Rock You" as we see the band perform it live.  And in a particularly humorous aside, he has Ronald Reagan, ripely mimicked by Fred Ward, playing John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance over and over again and pining for what might have happened if he had made a film with that legendary director

Particularly as the film is based on a true story (as recounted in a book, "Bonjour Farewell", by Serguei Kostine) it would have been nice to know more about the conditions that engendered Gregoriev’s resolve or for that matter what motivated Froment to take the risks he did but perhaps that would have been another film. As it is, Farewell is solid, if unremarkable as a depiction of the world of secret service shenanigans (in a small role Willem Dafoe delivers a neat little exposition at the film’s end that explains the absence of conventional subterfuge) and in broad strokes, the tense state of US-Soviet relations in the early 80s. Ultimately however it is about personal sacrifice, in particular as experienced by the modern male. This is where the film's strength lies and it is to Carion’s credit that he has explored this theme without melodramatizing it. It gives his film a resonance that takes it well beyond its genre form.




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