It leaves you without a clue
By Rachel Saslow
Friday, July 30, 2010
There's a reason nobody made a movie about the 1983 bust of Soviet spies with the code name "Farewell" until now: It's too bloody complicated. A French filmmaking team led by director Christian Carion wisely tried to make the story accessible by centering it on an ordinary man-turned-spy, but the intricate historical events still suffocate the film. It might enjoy a slight bump in interest because of last month's arrest of alleged Russian spy bombshell Anna Chapman and company, but those without deep knowledge of Cold War history will probably regret this ticket.
"Farewell" begins in 1981 Moscow. U.S. and Soviet relations are ugly. A French family man named Pierre (Guillaume Canet) is spying on the Soviets for the French and U.S. governments. Pierre starts getting hotter information about what the Soviets know, such as codes to get into the White House, the layout of Air Force One and a list of Soviet spies working in the West. Pierre receives the intel from Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica), a KGB colonel who has become disenchanted with communism under Leonid Brezhnev.
Pierre's wife doesn't know the extent of his spying but starts to worry for her family's safety. "I married an engineer, not James Bond," she says during an argument.
The characters' political loyalties are difficult to track, especially for folks who are rusty on the Cold War acronyms DST, CIA and KGB (French, U.S. and Soviet intelligence agencies, respectively). The movie starts to feel like an intelligence house of mirrors: "Does he know that they know that he knows?"
Sergei is also lying to his wife as he sneaks around with a mistress. This secondary story line seems terribly interesting, not so much because of its merits but because it gives frustrated and confused viewers something to cling to and care about, if only mildly. Ditto for Pierre's home life.
The second half picks up when Pierre and Sergei have to play hide-and-seek from the KGB: a good, old-fashioned case of bad guys chasing good guys. When the film's grim but beautiful last shot finally rolls around, most will feel relieved to bid farewell to "Farewell."
Contains violence (including torture), profanity and sex. In French and Russian with English subtitles.