France has special drinking water. That has to be the explanation for the outstanding glut of clever and compelling French movies currently blessing the big screen.
“L’Affaire Farewell” shows off Guillaume Canet’s acting skills which go along with his proven deft direction of “Little White Lies” (reviewed on this blog). Although this treat is from 2009, it’s only just out on a very limited release and it won’t be around for long, as it lacks the fast-paced action demanded by most viewers.
The plot demands concentration and rewards this by eliciting a genuine response from the viewer. In 1981, Colonel Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) decides that Russia needs to be saved and he is the man to do it.
He leaks secret information to engineer Pierre Froment (Canet) in the hopes that the facts will get to the Americans, via France. Therefore, Grigoriev reasons, President Ronald Reagan (an excellent Fred Ward) will act to end the Cold War and hasten perestroika.
Part of the beauty of this true story is that the viewer already knows the scheme worked. Gorbachev was in the ascendant and would soon open up the Soviet Union, for better and for worse.
The family relationships of Grigoriev and Froment are shown in detail, but the central story hangs on the growing warmth between the two protagonists, with sensitive scenes showing the roles of Gorbachev, Reagan and Mitterand.
David Soul plays an advisor to Reagan and it will take middle-aged women back to memories of the time when Soul was a big celebrity. If you love Queen and Freddie Mercury, there will be a special scene just for you.
A disappointingly small Stratford Picturehouse audience enjoyed the film and there was no checking of watches. Having said that, this is a film in French, Russian and English with adequate subtitles that lose the nuances of the French and the Russian.
Perhaps I should seek work subtitling films as I am being very distracted by thinking “no, that isn’t what that means in English at all”. Anyone know how I might get into that line of work? I would enjoy these movies so much more if I could insert my own accurate subtitles.
Many of the events happen in Moscow although most filming was in Finland and Ukraine. Probably, filming more than establishing shots in Moscow would have raised costs to prohibitive levels and this is not a big budget movie.
Why “Farewell”? If you know me, I will explain in great detail. Briefly, it’s a delightful joke. The Russian letters for CIA sound rather like “farewell” when they are elided together. It’s a Russian joke. How great is that?
See it and learn some real history that had a profound effect on your life, wherever you live. Then, try to communicate it to others. It’s a spy story about the mundane nature of most activity by spies and is rich for showing that reality.
Sergei Kostine wrote the book “Bonjour, Farewell” and it’s worth seeking out if your French is up to it. There is an English translation that feels rather American in tone and is much less poetic than the original.
Director Christian Carion directed the excellent war drama “Joyeux Noel” which also makes for gorgeous viewing and thinking. Every once in awhile, I am reminded that I am an utterly unreconstructed intellectual. Viewing this movie, I am okay with that, because it really wants my mind to work and think. Bless all who work in this Golden Age of French film for not being afraid of brains and celebrating them so richly.