Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adieu, Cold War: Farewell

L'affaire Farewell (2009) - Carion
Anyone old enough to remember the end of the Cold War, has fond memories of the Berlin wall coming down, epitomized by Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" speech. Farewell tells the little known fact of where it all began. It wasn't by the cowboy president or Mitterrand. It began with a lowly Soviet lieutenant named Gregoriev who risked everything to hand over all the Russian top secrets to the West. Out of patriotism, he had a foresight of shaking up the corrupt and stale gorvernment to the new era. He wanted another revolution for the next generation. Christian Carion (Joyeux Nöel) has created an espionage thriller with a human touch.

Gregoriev makes a contact with a skeptical French engineer Pierre (Guillaume Canet) stationed in Moscow to deliver the materials to the West. Pierre soon gets the spy bug and starts concealing his activities from his worried wife (luminous Alexandra Maria Lara, who is underused here). It takes a little while for the cynical Western intelligence community to realize what Gregoriev's true intentions since he doesn't want any monetary compensation- he only wants a Sony Walkman and Queen tapes in return. Emir Kusturica, the famed Balkan director (of Underground, Time of the Gypsies) and actor in his own right, plays Gregoriev, the man who wants to change the world for his decadent, Western music listening teenage son. With his grizzled lion face, Kusturica oozes charisma in every scene.

The tensions rise when their covers are blown and Pierre and his frightened family is forced to drive from Moscow to Finland & USSR border with angry Russians on their trail. The bad guys are the US and French Intelligence who treat people like pawn in a chess game. There are funny repeated scenes of Reagan (Fred Ward) watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, marveling at its two angles POV structure. Willem Dafoe also shows up as CIA director Feeney, but they are just cardboard characters.

Carion has a real knack for an old fashioned, by-the-book storytelling but it's his attention to little details with human touch, whether it's Gregoriev having an affair with a sexy, uptight comrade or his teenage son strutting in the forest lip-synching to Freddie Mercury, that makes this a better-than-average thriller.