Saturday, April 9, 2011
L’Affaire Farewell (2010) dir. Christian Carion
Starring: Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Willem Dafoe, Fred Ward, Alexandra Maria Lara, Niels Arestrup, Dina Korzun
By Alan Bacchus
If anything, this absorbing too-real-to-be-true spy story underplays the significance of the real life events of 1981 depicted in this film. In the early days of the Reagan Presidential era, a series of complex spy games resulted in the transfer of vital Soviet documents from Moscow, through Paris, to Washington. The documents included Soviet copies of the NASA Space Shuttle blueprints and a top secret list of Communist spies within the CIA, FBI and the White House.
Christian Carion (Joyeux Noel) executes this potent firecracker story with the sensitivity of an intimate character film. The key relationship is the working friendship between Pierre Froment (Canet), a French engineer working for the French embassy in Moscow, and Sergei Gregoriev (Kusturica), a high ranking KGB operative who risks his life and his family for his political values.
Sergei and Pierre meet almost coincidentally when Pierre is instructed by his superiors to exchange a small package with a suspected Soviet informer. This one act turns into a lengthy series of secret exchanges and increasingly dangerous spy games. Through their intimate meetings, we get to know their characters, both of them humble men who work in secret, fearful of the backlash from their families. At the same time, we see the big picture ramifications of their actions. Fred Ward plays Ronald Reagan and Philippe Magnon plays Francois Mitterand, both of whom trade this information like baseball cards, neglectful of the personal risk taken by their courageous operatives.
Cold War spy games like these always make for great cinema. And Carion’s treatment of this subject has all the quiet tension of a John le Carré novel or something with Gene Hackman in it. There are no action scenes, yet we’re not without a sense of impending danger. Carion clearly shows the importance of family. These are the stakes for Sergei and Pierre. Sergei’s inner conflict is the battle between his patriotic desire to see Russia rise from the idealistic ashes of Communism and his desire to be a family man and care for his son and wife. He commits several acts of betrayal along the way, including having an affair with a secretary in order to get information. This is the stuff of great screenwriting – flawed heroes with obstacles the size of mountains to surmount.
As for Pierre, he’s been lying to his wife the whole time, which threatens to cause the breakup of their marriage. But why does he risk his family? His motives are less clear than Sergei’s. Perhaps it’s his desire to make a difference in the world, or a feeling of inadequacy as a French engineer living outside his home, subject to the strict control of his superiors. Guillaume Canet’s introspective everyman performance renders Pierre as the ideal, identifiable point of view into this secret and dangerous world.
Carion executes a marvellous cinematic third act, during which Sergei comes face-to-face with the sacrifices he’s made. His final conversation with his son is a highly emotional moment, and their final embrace is simply heartbreaking.
An interesting side note is the casting of two expert directors in the lead roles. Emir Kusturica is a Bosnian cinema master and two-time Palm D’Or winner appearing in his first ever lead role speaking both Russian and French. Bravo. And Guillaume Canet is a HUGE mega star in France (husband to Marion Cotillard), but also a budding master director (Tell No One, Little White Lies).
Though L’Affaire Farewell didn’t benefit from a theatrical release, by no means should this film be considered ‘straight-to-video’. This is as important, entertaining and mainstream as any ‘foreign language’ film you’ll see.
L’Affaire Farewell is available on Blu-ray and DVD from E1 Home Entertainment in Canada.