Farewell is set in Moscow during the Cold War in the early 80's.

Sergey Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica), a KGB colonel disappointed with his country's regime, decides to bring down the system. He makes contact with Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), a young French engineer posted to Moscow. The highly confidential information Grigoriev passes to Froment quickly attracts the attention of the Western secret services.

President Mitterand (Philippe Magnan) is alerted and decides to inform President Reagan (Fred Ward). The two heads of state decide to exploit this ultra-sensitive data transmitted by a mysterious Moscow source whom the French have baptised "Farewell."

A simple man, Pierre Froment hence finds himself embroiled in one of the most astounding spy cases of the 20th century. A case that is way out of his league and that soon threatens his life and the lives of his family.

A fascinating Cold War conspiracy.

This is only an occasionally tense but always fascinating spy story with a plot totally dependent on cloak and dagger movie tropes; the double-double-cross, the secret life hidden from loved ones, the last minute chase across the border. Still, the film alleges that its action is based on a true story of some international significance. Set in the early '80s when the 'new' Cold War was at its hottest, what with a massive military-defence spend from the USSR and USA, and the absurd 'Star Wars' missile defence scheme, Farewell deals with a three-way intelligence conspiracy that allowed President Ronnie Reagan’s White House to get the advantage in the lethal nuclear chess match over Gorbachev’s Kremlin (ultimately ending in the dismantling of the Soviet Union).

The script by Eric Raynaud is a maze of detail and, perhaps taking a nod from the fiction of Le Carre’s adult thrillers in the genre, the whole thing seems designed to test an audience’s ability to digest great gobs of information. Rather than convenient murders, gadgets and cover ups, the 'spy stuff’ here seems reduced to banal paper shuffling – plans, lists, schemes (like the precise specifics of NASA’s space shuttle!).

Director Christian Carion wrenches some truly frightening moments out of banal circumstances; a man searches a desk drawer for crucial documents in a KGB office, an unlocked door the only thing standing between him and capture and certain death. It’s a tribute to the film’s grasp of spy movie mechanics that for almost the entire running time of the film we have absolutely no idea about the genuine significance of the information – but we have intimate knowledge of the human cost espionage has on its enablers, dupes, agents and provocateurs.

The three points of the movie’s spy triangle are French, Russia and American.
Pierre (director Guillame Canet) works for a media agency in Moscow, and he becomes a reluctant courier for the aging and disenchanted KGB agent Grigoriev (director Emir Kuristica). This information is passed on through the intelligence service until it eventually finds its way to newly elected French President Mitterand (Philippe Magnan). A leftist, his election is greeted with grave suspicion by right-winger Reagan. Mitterand delivers his KGB insider – code named 'Farewell’ and the information he provides – as a kind of 'trust me’ peace offering to Reagan.

Meanwhile in Moscow, all the lying and double-dealing puts a strain on the domestic situation for both Pierre and Grigoriev (Canet and Kuristica are both very fine actors who suggest the inner turmoil of their characters with the slightest eye-flick or hesitant hand gesture).

Carion’s direction has a split personality and a wicked sense of humour. The Pierre and Grigoriev scenes are tense, and played very real. The scenes set in the halls of power in Washington seem to belong in a different movie; they are satirical, and bigger than life. There’s a wonderfully ironic moment that plays into the caricature of Reagan as a fantasist.

He’s watching John Ford’s 1962 classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a movie about a powerful man that owed his public success to a hero whose courage and identity stayed a secret so the man's legend went unspoiled. It’s a beat in the film with a clever double-edge since it makes Reagan seem a little goofy but also shrewd. In this movie everyone is playing 'doubles’.

Farewell’s twisted and violent shifts in tone is perhaps a nod to the way espionage bends and distorts the perception of its perpetrator’s while leaving its victims confused and betrayed. There is a further and obvious irony in the narrative; in the name of an ideal, always compromised, its heroes must betray their very lives and all that means to friends and family.


Watch 'Farewell'

Monday 3 August, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies
Wednesday 5 August, 12:15am on SBS World Movies
Friday 7 August, 3:40am on SBS World Movies

Now streaming at SBS On Demand

France, 2009
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Language: French, Russian
Director: Christian Carion
Starring: Emir Kusturica, Willem Dafoe, Guillaume Canet, Alexandra Maria Lara, Fred Ward

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