Farewell refuses to simply follow the conventions of the political thriller. Instead, director Christian Carion focuses on building tension and character, pacing his story to a graceful climax.
Directed by: Christian Carion
Written by: Christian Carion, Eric Raynaud
Starring: Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Willem Dafoe, Fred Ward
Released: 2009 / Genre: Drama/Thriller / Country: France / IMDB
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Released just over two years ago in France to critical acclaim, L’affaire Farewell sells itself as a true story, based on the actions of the high-ranking KGB official Vladimir Vetrov. It was released in the US some nine months later, dropping the first half of its title, but none of its charismatic charm. Adapted from a 1997 French novel by Serguei Kostine, Farewell follows disillusioned KGB analyst Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) as he feeds Soviet secrets to the French through a most unwitting and unwilling character.
As political thrillers go, Farewell is quite the exception to the rule, refusing to simply follow the norms and conventions of the genre – there’s little sense of adrenaline or rush about it all; instead, director Christian Carion focuses on building tension and character, pacing his story to a graceful climax. It’s to his credit that it is pulled off so remarkably, remaining engaging and engrossing without ever feeling unwarranted.
And yet the core theme of Farewell is not one of espionage, thrills or even politics – it is instead simply that of sacrifice; the constant sacrifices each player of the spy game must make in their quest to change the world. By focusing so inherently on these acts of martyr, Carion shifts the tone of the film from any kind of typically labyrinthine and convoluted matrix to a remorselessly sober effort – one that allows no justices to its characters, but, in doing so, draws wonderfully on audience sympathies and the coveted reaction of pure admiration.
The unwitting accomplice to Grigoriev’s efforts is Pierre Froment (Guillame Canet), a naïve French engineer working in Moscow. Following the first transfer of information, as Grigoriev attempts to expose the network of Soviet spies obtaining Western secrets, Pierre confides in his wife, Jessica (Alexandra Maria Lara) – who, rather determinedly , insists he should stop for the sake of his family. Of course, Grigoriev persuades him to continue, and thus places greater strain on an already stretched Pierre.
By always heading back to the family aspect of both characters – Grigoriev is wound up in illicit affairs and estranged relationships with his son – Carion grounds the film in reality and the home; never does the tale reach heights of disbelief, and in this way manages to elicit relatable characters in a genre that convention would disallow. The sacrifices each man makes for his family, and for the greater good – Grigoriev believes he can change the world, but he’s only doing it for his son – are total in their commendation. Farewell allows us to back its characters, and feel for them in spite of their faults and flaws, and in this sense is truly remarkable.
And yet despite this sense of grandeur in its scripting and characters, Carion’s film still manages to construct an absorbing world in which its story can unfold; the cinematography of the piece is no mean feat – filmed in the 21st Century Farewell may have been, but its atmosphere and charm feel like they have come straight from 1981. Carion’s cameras are visceral in their nature, and draw the audience back to the sense of a modern era film, but the hazed focus and listless autumnal landscapes of Soviet Russia, collided with wintry sleets and snowy palettes – inescapable trademarks of the location – give the impression of a more classical production. The blend of the two styles is superb and to great effect; Carion’s direction is exquisite, particularly on just his fourth film at the helm.
Farewell boasts tenderness, sacrifice and humanity in an eclectic and cold world of espionage, but is never complacent about it; the direction feels effortless but unparalleled in its grandeur, and the acting standard is commendable. A stellar achievement, Carion’s political thriller is removed from its genre, but not to the extent that it forgets itself. This is still a tale of espionage; a tale of treachery, secrecy, lies and deceit – it is simply rooted in all that makes one human, and through this becomes a political thriller that not only engages its audience, but also connects with it on a more intimate level. Farewell stands as an intriguing story with intriguing characters, rooted in reality to extraordinary effect.
Farewell was released on UK DVD on August 29th and can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk here