DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2009: L'Affaire Farewell

Monday 14 September 2009

TIFF 2009: L'Affaire Farewell

L’affaire Farewell (2009) Dir. Christian Carion
Starring: Emir Kusturica, Guillaume Canet, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Dina Korzun, Maria Lara, Fred Ward, Philippe Magnan, David Soul and Willem Dafoe


Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw

While the 1980s will always feel to me like one of the most culturally empty periods I ever experienced in my life, one thing I will never forget was just how close-to-home and strange the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the rest of the Western world – particularly the United States – actually was. It was a time of paranoia, macho posturing between the USA and USSR and always the fear of nuclear warfare. Having been born on the cusp of the Baby Boom and Gen-X, I was certainly made aware of the early days of the Cold War during the 50s, but it really wasn’t until the 80s that I felt I got a real taste of feeling like I was living – if not culturally – politically in a climate that felt very much like a living history and that events were transpiring that would change the world forever.

Christian Carion, who directed the lovely, sentimental World War I drama “Joyeaux Noel” (not only an award winning and critically acclaimed film, but a huge boxoffice hit in its domestic territory France and eventually all over the world) has, with his latest picture “L’affaire Farewell”, crafted a work that is imbued with considerable nostalgia appeal in terms of how expertly it captures the espionage and flavour of the Cold War during the 80s, but is also, one of the best political thrillers in years.

Based on the true story of the high ranking KGB official who secretly fed the biggest state secrets to the West and was responsible for the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe, “L’affaire Farewell” is an utterly compelling, straight ahead picture that thrills with both subject matter and impeccable craft.

Colonel Grigoriev (the brilliant master director Emir Kusturica in his formal debut as a leading man) feels completely disillusioned with Communism under Leonid Brezhnev and with the assistance of Pierre (actor and director Guillaume Canet) a non-professional French civilian working in Moscow leaks information designed to bring down the entire Soviet regime. This famous historical mission, dubbed “farewell” and led by French president Mitterand (Phillipe Magnan) and US president Ronald Reagan (Fred Ward) was, without question, the most daring operation in the history of 20th Century espionage.

Carion parcels out this fascinating story with precision and class. Most importantly, he does so in a manner that keeps us enthralled and in a heightened state of suspense – thanks to a first-rate script by Eric Raynaud and a mastery that recalls both Costa-Gavras and Fred Zinneman, most notably and respectively conjuring memories of “Z” and “The Day of the Jackal” and reminding us of just how good an old-fashioned political thriller can be. There’s nothing overtly flashy about Carion’s approach and the picture feels closer to the measured pace of Zinneman than that of the rapid-fire Costa-Gavras, but his film clearly shares the Gavras blend of personal and political and nowhere is this more apparent in how the plot balances the private lives of his characters against the sweep of historical events.

The cast is outstanding. Emir Kusturica as Grigoriev is a revelation. With his tough, tender, brave and cynical performance, Kusturica mines his sexy-ugly Bogart qualities and creates a character who is, in many ways, as haunting as that of Rick in “Casablanca”. The camera loves Kusturica and one hopes he’ll get more chances to deliver the goods on-camera as well as off. Guillaume Canet is a far more traditional leading man type – handsome AND sensitive, he might even have the more difficult role as he needs to transition from a civilian bureaucrat into a spy who thinks he’s getting better, but is, in fact swimming deeper in the shit than he could even begin to comprehend. The array of beautiful leading ladies as the strong, supportive women in the lives of these two men are a perfect compliment to their male counterparts.

The real fun can be found in the fabulous casting of Fred Ward and Phillipe Magnan as Reagan and Mitterand. Ward is especially stunning. A handsome, grizzled veteran of tough guy roles, Ward is perfect as the former matinee-idol-turned-president. While he bears only a passing resemblance, his verbal intonations and even a few physical ones are eerily reminiscent of a President who might have often felt like a joke at the time, but in retrospect seems like just what America and the world needed in the 80s.

One of the script’s great touches includes Reagan constantly screening the final scenes of John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” to his aides – reminding both himself, them and the audience of how there is always more than one side to every story and that history itself has a way of swapping truth and fiction in order to tell a ripping yarn.

And have no doubt, “L’affaire Farewell” is one hell of a ripping yarn. While the movie spends perhaps a bit too much time on the romantic relationships of both Grigoriev and Pierre, they add a personal touch to the proceedings that suggests how life often throws the curveballs of normalcy into pretty much anything – no matter how extraordinary one’s situation might be. This contrasts quite beautifully with the espionage and ultimately lends even more weight to the moments of suspense which range from creeping, mounting anticipation to all-out esde-of-the-seat stuff.

While much of the threat of Communism was manufactured by the US propaganda machine, the movie (and Grigoriev’s character) display how even the noblest of intentions (Grigoriev sadly recalls the need for revolution during the early part of the 20th century) can slip into an abyss of evil and how only by destroying what transforms into all-out totalitarianism is a goal that must always be countered head-on. In “L’affaire Farewell”, we not only get a sense of how evil Communism had become, but that finally it was individuals and not governments who brought the whole deck of cards down.

“L’affaire Farewell” is playing at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and will be theatrically released by E1 Films.

1 comment :

Laura said...

Sounds like a very compelling film. Will look for it in the Chicago area.