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Farewell (6/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 113 minutes.

OK for children.

Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) is a Soviet operative in Moscow who wants to change the system, so he provides top secret data about names of Soviet spies in the West to French diplomat Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet). Unlike most thrillers, there isn’t much cloak and dagger stuff here until the last third of the movie. Most of the first two thirds is a lot of talk and actually extremely slow.

Pierre’s involvement threatens his marriage to Jessica (Alexandra Maria Lara). Sergei’s involvement threatens his relationship with his son, and those two storylines really make the movie drag. It seems that instead of worrying about getting caught, these guys think they are involved in some cheap soap opera throughout most of the film, worrying about their relationships. If you’re committing a capital offense by revealing state secrets, is your main worry going to be wondering how it will affect your relationship with your son, or whether or not you will be discovered and tortured? Writer/Director Christian Carion seems to be confused, thinking that he’s creating a segment of As the World Turns instead of a serious thriller. The movie finally picks up steam considerably in the last third.

The first question one has when leaving this film about Cold War espionage is, “Did this actually happen?” The easy answer is that there was a spy code-named “Farewell,” and he did provide secrets. But pretty much the rest of it is fiction, based on the novel Bonjour Farewell by Serguei Kostine. Carion changed all the names except for President Ronald Reagan (Fred Ward) and French Premier Françoise Mitterand (Philippe Magnan). The name Sergei Gregoriev is presently being used by a porn star. Why Carion chose it for his protagonist is anybody’s guess.

The person with the code name “Farewell” was Col. Vladimir Vetrov. While it is alleged that he was executed, like Barack Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate that allegation has never been proven.

(Spoiler alert) Carion, being French, paints President Reagan and the United States in a poor light. At the end of the film, CIA operative Feeny (Willem Dafoe) tells Pierre that the U.S. itself informed on Gregoriev to the Soviets, resulting in his death. As far as I know, this is pure fiction put in the film to defame America. As to President Reagan, he’s pictured as a frivolous guy who just likes to tell a lot of jokes. Yeah, he just turned the economy around and ended the Cold War without a shot being fired. But according to Carion all he could do was tell jokes and smile. Since throughout WWII (and the run-up to it in the ‘30s) the French put up little fight, collaborated with the Nazis, were only liberated by the U.S.-British invasion at Normandy, and never did much to help fight The Cold War, the anti-American slant of this film is inexcusable.

Considering the fact that Gregoriev and Froment were risking their lives throughout the entire film, this is preternaturally slow and tedious. If a filmmaker who knew something about pace and tension had been directing it could have been spellbinding. In French.