Friday, March 19, 2010

Movie Review: L'Affaire Farewell

L’Affaire Farewell ***
Directed By:
Christain Carion.
Screenplay: Eric Raynaud, based on the book Bonjour Farewell by Serguei Kostine
Starring: Emir Kusturica (Gregoriev), Guillaume Canet (Pierre), Alexandra Maria Lara (Jessica), Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Natasha), Dina Korzun (Alina), Philippe Magnan (François Mitterrand), Niels Arestrup (Vallier), Fred Ward (Reagan), Willem Dafoe (Feeney), Yevgeni Kharlanov (Igor), David Soul (Hutton), Valentin Varetsky (Anatoly).

L’Affaire Farewell is different from most spy movies that we see. There are no chase sequences, not gadgets or gizmos, no shootouts. You are even hard pressed to find a scene in the movie where someone raises their voice in anger. That is because the movie is based in reality. Where spies don’t blow anything up, because if they did they would call attention to the fact that they are spies. This is a quiet, thoughtful movie about the Cold War.

Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) is an intelligence officer with the KGB. It is the early 1980s, and he is tired of seeing country in ruins, his people poor and having little hope for the future. He has a teenage son, and wants to see him grow up and have more opportunities in life than he had. He loves his country, but hates what it has become. He decides that he is going to help save it. He was once stationed in France, so he reaches out to the French and offers to supply them with information about the Soviets activities. The French are not as experienced at this as many countries are, and they end up sending a low level government employee – and engineer actually – to pick up the information. This is Pierre (Guillaume Canet), who simply wants to do his job, and watch his kids grow up. But Gregoriev takes a shine to Pierre. The two men bond. So even if Pierre is not really sure what he is doing, he becomes Gregoriev’s contact. Through a number of years, Gregoriev provides him with a lot of information that ends up being passed up the food chain, until it eventually reaches the desk of Ronald Reagan (Fred Ward), and his adviser Feeney (Willem Dafoe). Neither of these men know Gregoriev, and don’t really care either. He’s supplying him with the information they want, and that’s all that matters. If his life is in danger, so be it.

L’Affaire Farewell works very well in the scenes between Gregoriev and Pierre. These have an uneasy chemistry with each other. At first, they are constantly feeling each other out, mistrustful of each other. But as the movie progresses, they let their guard down a little. Not only do they trust each other, they like each other. Gregoriev’s son is a music fan, but he cannot get the music he likes (Queen especially) in the USSR, so he gets Pierre to bring back tapes from France for his son. The two like each other.

The movie is even more fascinating though when it simply deals with Gregoriev and his life. Emir Kusturica is a great filmmaker in his own right, but when he steps in front of the camera, he is also a great actor. He makes Gregoriev a complex person, who we like and admire, even after we find out about the affair he is having, and other not so flattering truths. Gregoriev is not your typical movie hero, but a real person, faced with impossible decisions who is doing the best he can. He is the real reason to see the movie.

The movie is less effective in detailing Pierre’s personal life, but that’s because we’ve seen it all before. He has a wife who is constantly complaining at him to put his family first, and to let go of all this spy stuff. It’s putting his family in danger. She is the typical movie wife, whose sole purpose is to make it harder for her husband, and to pretend like it is still the 1950s, so she has to be the dutiful woman, who has no opinions of her own, except as they relate to her family. It gets a little tiresome at times.

The other problem with the movie, and it’s a more minor one, is Fred Ward’s performance as Ronald Reagan. Ward seems to be combining some George W. Bush in with his Reagan, which makes the performance feel a little off. If they are trying to draw parallels from the Cold War to the War on Terror, than the allegory is lost in translation. Willem Dafoe is much better in a very small role as the unfeeling intelligence officer, who explains that they are a nation at war, and there are causalities in any war. And it’s better for those causalities to be Soviet, than American.

Overall though, L’Affaire Farewell is an intelligent spy drama that sticks much closer to reality than most spy movies. It is a movie that knows how these things work in real life, and that there are tragedies in every situation. By the end of the movie, we feel genuinely sorry for Gregoriev, who simply wanted to make a better life for his son.

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