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