Farewell (L’affaire Farewell)
A true story of Cold War espionage and key players in the Russian, French and American sides, Farewell is a terrific, understated film that reminded me of those my parents brought me up on in the ’80s – Gorky Park, The Fourth Protocol and so on (an entirely appropriate comparison given the film’s historical setting, as well as its style). Guillaume Canet (a French director and actor whose talent is discussed in earlier reviews in this blog) and Emir Kusturica (the multi-faceted Serbian director/actor/writer/musician) play the young French engineer and aging KGB colonel, respectively, who end up working together to deliver Russian intelligence to the US, thus bringing an end to the Cold War.
Shot in Paris, Moscow and Finland, spoken in French, Russian and English, and with a supporting cast including Willem Dafoe, David Soul and Niels Arestrup (the Corsican gang boss in A Prophet), it’s a tight little story that has you gripped simply because of the inevitable threat to our protagonists’ lives, not because of aliens or monsters or gangsters or natural disasters. The locations and production design nicely evoke the era, and special pleasure is gleaned from watching the colonel’s west-ophile son enjoying the music of “Queen” on his Sony walkman (curiously, the filmmaker interposes footage of a scantily-clad Freddie Mercury in full swing at a live performance – and it’s enormously entertaining).
The plot is simple, but the detail of it is intricate and requires close attention to the subtitles and quick changes of scene and pace in order to follow what’s happening, to whom, and why. The impersonations of key figures such as Reagan and Gorbachev are just subtle enough to be keenly observed but not distracting. And you learn a bit about spying in a pre-Bourne era – all in all, Farewell is a completely engaging slice of a past life.