foreign films

Farewell (L'Affaire)
Made in: France
Language: French, Russian, English
Director: Christian Carion
Starring: Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Alexandria Maria Lara, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Evgeniy Kharlanov, Dina Korzun, Aleksey Gorbunov, Philippe Magnan, Fred Ward, Willem Dafoe
Year: 2009

Based on a true story.

Synopsis: The year is 1981. Francois Mitterrand (played by Philippe Magnan) has been elected President of France, and relations between the Soviet Union and the United States are at a new low.

In Moscow, KGB veteran Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) has grown disillusioned with his government under Leonid Brezhnev. By chance, Gregoriev makes a connection with French engineer Pierre Froment (Guillame Canet), who happens to be working in the Russian capital.

Gregoriev begins handing off top secret information to Froment; documents which reveal the intricate nature of the Soviet spy network within the U.S. Although Froment knows he is putting his wife, Jessica (Alexandria Maria Lara), and their young children in serious danger, he wants to know more and presses on.

Froment passes the information over to French intelligence officials, who promptly share it with the CIA. The White House is initially skeptical about Gregoriev's credibility, but soon President Ronald Reagan (played by Fred Ward) learns that the flow of information he's getting is not only authentic, but has history changing implications.

With the US gaining the upper hand in the Cold War, the stakes grow higher as the KGB begin a frantic search for their mole (who is given the codename Farewell by the French). As the operation deepens, Froment and Gregoriev put themselves and their families at ever increasing risk of being arrested.

In a time before cell phones, digital cameras, and e-mail, how will one of the most important spy operations of all time end?

The Good: Directed by Christian Carion, who made the Academy Award Nominated war film Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noël), Farewell is an engaging film with an excellent cast. Guillaume Canet and Emir Kusturica are excellent leading men, and the supporting actors are outstanding as well.

The film does a good job pointing out the lies, deceit, and paranoia that go with being a spy. Also, the impact that spying has on the personal lives of Gregoriev and Froment adds another fascinating, emotional dimension to the story.

Carion deftly makes the point that flawed individuals, motivated by a strong sense of justice and humanity, can affect the world just as dramatically as global power-brokers and bureaucratic agencies.

The bad: The scenes with Ronal Reagan and his advisors are a little awkward at first. Also, the pace of the film seems a little too fast in the beginning. The acclaimed Willem Dafoe does a great job, but is underused.

Who would like this movie: Farewell is for you if you like foreign films, have an interest in the Cold War, and enjoy a good spy story involving KGB moles. Of course, the multilingual element of the film is an added highlight if you appreciate foreign languages.

I obtained a copy of this film from France (no English subtitles, unfortunately), because I couldn't wait for its mainstream US release. I understand very little French and reading French subtitles over Russian dialogue almost made my brain explode.

But I figured out what was happening (at least, I think I did) and liked the movie anyway. It opens in most American theaters on July 23, 2010, and I hope to view it again.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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