It’s surprising there aren’t many films concerning the actual events that lead up to the fall of the USSR and communism, especially considering how dramatic they are. It’s these exact events that are the focus of Christian Carion’s thriller Farewell (L’affaire Farewell). And his principle characters are two of the biggest names in European film today, Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and French director Guillaume Canet (Tell No One). It’s a spy film, but these aren’t spies like James Bond, or Jason Bourne. These are real people, in really serious situations. And it’s a refreshing reminder of that fact.
Kusturica plays a high-ranking KGB official named Sergei Gregoriev, a man disillusioned with the communist system. He decides to pass along Soviet secrets to the French government, hoping to force the Soviet system to adopt radical changes in their failing system. He decides to do this through a French engineer based in Moscow, named Pierre Froment (Canet). Froment is not a spy and doesn’t have experience in espionage, which puts him above suspicion, and makes him the perfect candidate for the job. Kusturica is idealistic about his motives, and refuses to receive money or defection with his family as a reward for his efforts.
The information given to the French government is then, in turn, passed along to the US by the Director of French Security, Valliers (Niels Arestrup of Un prophete). This key information reveals the fifteen highest ranking Soviet moles in positions of power in the West, and in swift action, intelligence about the West was cut off, leaving the Soviets without a leg to stand on.
The events of the film are so dramatic, it’s difficult to remember that they’re true. Canet and Kusturica are well cast and bring a humanity to espionage films that is nearly forgotten in today’s cinema. This is assisted by spending time focusing on the respective families of the two. Sergei fights to keep a relationship open with his withdrawn teenage son, who’s unafraid criticizing Brezhnev in public. Sergei balances his relationship with his wife with his extramarital affairs with a KGB operative under his authority.
Pierre’s life contrasts considerably as his children are too young to be aware of the intensely dangerous political atmosphere, of the paranoia that has settled over Moscow like a thick cloud of fog. In the beginning, Pierre shares, and discusses his activities with his wife who becomes so rattled by the potential danger, she makes him agree to cease and desist anything that could put the young family in danger. But stuck somewhere between the excitement of it all, and a real awareness that he could literally make the world a better place, Pierre continues to smuggle information to the West.
The facts are most certainly dramatized and it seems Carion left the film just open enough to warrant a sequel, but the characters feel real, the tension is palpable, and best of all, among films like Salt released this year, Farewell feels relevant.
Authentic tension and characters make for a refreshingly humanistic take on spies and espionage.