Farewell


Directed by: Christian Carion
Written by:Christian Carion, Eric Raynaud
Starring: Emir Kusturica, Guillaume Canet, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Aleksev Gorbunov
Released: July 1, 2010
Grade: B+

I’ve always been intrigued by the world of espionage.  There must be so much juicy stuff which goes on behind the closed doors of organisations like the CIA and MI6.  There’d be stories of heroism and there’d be stories of betrayal.  Most of these tales will never be told.  They’ll remain locked away in top secret files which will never see the light of day.

Such secrecy only heightens our curiosity.  There’s a significant percentage of the population who are drawn to novels written by the likes of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlam and Dan Brown.  How much of their work is inspired by the truth?  Maybe it’s all just speculative fantasy?  We’ll never really know.

Farewell is something a little different however.  There’s a lot more truth to this than your average spy thriller.  The screenwriters have drawn from the novel by Sergei Kostine and listened to hours of actual interviews with members of the French Secret Service.  When word spread about the film being made, others came forward and gave their version of events under the condition of anonymity.

The story is set in the early 1980s in the midst of the Cold War.  President Ronald Reagan was oblivious to the fact that United States intelligence had been infiltrated by Russian spies.  The Russians were smuggling valuable information on matters such as the space program and nuclear weapons back home to the KGB.  It gave them a valuable edge.

Two men would change the course of the history.  To call them unlikely heroes would be an understatement.  The first was a disillusioned KGB agent unhappy with the Soviet government.  He was given the codename “Farewell”.  The second was a French engineer working in Moscow.  They weren’t trained spies and yet, they turned the tables on the KGB by smuggling its valuable secrets (including lists of spies) to the French Secret Service.  A key alliance between the French and the United States would then be forged.

It’s this riveting story which makes Farewell a film worth seeing.  The Cold War was an interesting period of history which hasn’t received much attention on the big screen (as opposed to World War II films).  I shook my head in amazement at some scenes.  How did these two guys manage to play such a big role in bringing down the Soviet empire?

French director Christian Carion (Joyeux Noel) struggles at time with the execution of the story.  Some of the dialogue involving Ronald Reagan and his advisers is laughable.  So too is the performance of Fred Ward as Reagan.  That said, I was impressed by Emir Kusturica and Guillaume Canet in the leading roles.  I slowly developed an emotional connection with both them and their families.  I sat anxiously in my seat… hoping that no harm to come to them.

I always feel uneasy when filmmakers do this but yes, a few elements of the tale have been changed to assist with the cinematic adaptation.  There were actually several French agents who helped “Farewell” sneak information out of Russia.  Characters names have also been changed.  I don’t think the Russian government was too impressed either as they denied Carion permission to film there.  Carion did manage to get a few shots of Moscow though by pretending to film a Coca-Cola advertisement.

Featuring a mix of English, French and Russian, Farewell is a solid thriller.