L’affaire Farewell (Director: Christian Carion): It’s the early 1980s and KGB colonel Serguei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) knows that the Soviet system isn’t working. He wants change, and so he decides to set events in motion that might sweep him away, but will benefit his teenaged son. He makes contact with Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), a young French engineer working for an electronics company in Moscow. Froment is not a spy but his boss “does favours” for France’s internal intelligence, and Grigoriev feels that Froment will be above suspicion. Over Froment’s initial protestations, he begins passing him documents which expose the KGB’s intimate knowledge of the West’s military and intelligence structures. Froment reluctantly passes these on when he travels back to France, and soon the two men are locked in an intimate and dangerous friendship.
Both men love their wives and children, but this love drives Grigoriev to take risks while Froment seeks to avoid them. As the information gets into the hands of more and more senior players, the danger grows. Newly-elected French president Miterrand passes the information to US president Reagan, hoping to paper over the men’s ideological differences. As Reagan and his CIA director Feeney (Willem Dafoe) begin to realize how much of their own intelligence has been compromised, they are eager to find out who this Russian, codenamed “Farewell” is.
The best thing about the film is that it is not a typical guns-blazing action movie. We see both of these men with their wives and children, dealing with their own demons as they are forced to deceive and conceal for what they hope will be the greater good. For this reason, the tension rises without any editing trickery or musical cues. We realize just how deep a trap Grigoriev and Froment have gotten themselves into, and while the Russian has always seemed ready to pay the price, his accomplice protests at every step, even while he continues his work.
While there are no real surprises around the conclusion of the whole affair, Carion keeps us riveted right to the very end. Helping immeasurably are the able performances of the two leads, especially Kusturica, much better-known as a film director. Here he plays Grigoriev as a sort of Russian Depardieu, a bear-like man who also happens to be a dedicated Francophile. Grigoriev was posted to Paris for five years and is always asking Froment to bring him back things from France: champagne, cognac, records and poetry. It makes it all the more sad when he refuses Froment’s advice to defect with his family.
Carion has also recreated the time and place with incredible care. The old cars, the Stalinist architecture, even the bootleg Queen cassette that Grigoriev’s son is always listening to; all contribute to the atmosphere of a country hoping for change but fearing the future. Adding to the film’s appeal is Carion’s decision to have dialogue spoken in Russian, French, and English according to the character. The presence of both the French and American “Western” perspectives also gives the film more depth than the typical US vs USSR dynamic in many similar films. I sincerely hope this helps L’affaire Farewell break out of France and make some waves in the rest of the world, especially in the North American market. This smart and well-acted film deserves a wide audience.