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Vol. 9, No. 2, 2010
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Robert J. Lewis
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Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
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Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
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Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert

Christian Carion's

Christian Carion


reviewed by


Farewell played at the 2009 Cinemania Film Festival. For the ratings, click HERE. Stephen Farber reviews films at the Hollywood Reporter.

It's not easy to find a fresh slant on a Cold War spy story, but the French film Farewell almost manages to reinvigorate the genre. In the 1980s a disgruntled KGB agent, who used the code name Farewell, passed information to the French and Americans that ended up undermining the Soviet regime and contributing to its ultimate downfall.

The picture, directed by Christian Carion, who earned an Oscar nomination for Merry Christmas in 2006, takes the basic facts of the case and embellishes with a lot of neat character touches. While the film is too convoluted to stir box office excitement, it offers some rewards for sophisticated moviegoers.

In 1981 Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) is disillusioned with the Brezhnev regime and nostalgic for the time he spent in Paris years earlier. Almost on a whim, he decides to pass secrets to the French. He does not want to go through official channels, so he selects as his conduit a low-level French engineer based in Moscow. Pierre (Guillaume Canet) is not thrilled to be handed so much responsibility.

Nevertheless, his superiors encourage the contact, and over the course of the next several months, the two reluctant spies develop a wary friendship. Both of them have marital problems, so they have a certain kinship that grows in intensity. Eventually, of course, the two of them are endangered by their haphazard mission.

The suspense only works in fits and starts. What saves the movie is the depth of the two central characters. It's interesting that Carion cast two leading actors who are also directors. Canet recently directed the hit thriller Tell No One. Kusturica has acted in a few films (most notably in Patrice Leconte's The Widow of Saint-Pierre and Neil Jordan's The Good Thief), but he's primarily known as the director of such Yugoslavian films as When Father Was Away on Business, Time of the Gypsies, and Underground. The two of them demonstrate strong rapport on camera. Kusturica in particular gives a marvelous performance. His hangdog charm wins our sympathy, and his struggle to win the trust of his surly teenage son is deeply poignant.

Unfortunately, Carion too often cuts away from these two compelling characters to examine the larger political context. He even ventures to Washington, where Fred Ward does a rather stiff impersonation of Ronald Reagan and Willem Dafoe has a cameo as the head of the CIA. Perhaps Carion wanted to satirize American gaucherie, but these scenes are clumsy and almost totally expendable.

Toward the end, the film introduces a slew of surprise twists that aren't quite as satisfying as Carion hopes. Plot is not the movie's strong suit. What keeps us watching are the anxious faces of the two excellent leading actors.

For the ratings of 2009 Cinemania Film Festival, HERE.
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Festivalissimo Film Festival - Montreal
2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL (Montreal) North America's Premier Genre Festival July 3-21
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