A French Cold War espionage thriller would seem to be a strange proposition right from the go. One whose publicity bumf comes with a prominent recommendation from the late President Ronald Reagan is positively bizarre.
According to Reagan, the real- life Farewell was 'one of the most important espionage cases of the 20th century'. At the beginning of the 1980s, a disenchanted but still idealistic colonel in the KGB (Emir Kusturica) started to feed information to the West, through the intermediary of a French engineer (Guillaume Canet) living and working in Moscow who was doing it as a favour to his boss.
It wasn't just a few of the secrets, it was all of them and he did it for free. Which probably reveals the motive for this French Cold War thriller – it is stripping Reagan of credit for winning the Cold War and giving it to a forgotten Russian hero, as well as the plucky French amateur who helped him out.
In thriller terms, it's not exactly edge-of-the-seat stuff, but it is fascinating piece of history. The day-to-day exchanges between the pair in Moscow is hardly Le Carre stuff.
They meet up in public, exchange stuff and go for walks in the park. Pierre is warned that all the bedrooms in the French compound where he lives are bugged, but he and his disapproving wife are seen discussing his little espio-nage hobby there.
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Swirling around the nitty gritty espionage activities of the central pair, there is the vast the global politicking of Mitterand and Reagan, represented by an array of bizarre big-name cameos.
Willem Dafoe pops up for a couple of scenes as a CIA chief, David Soul is the President's constant companion, while Fred Ward gives us a very vague and rather flattering approximation of Reagan. Strangest of all is a brief appearance by Diane Kruger who doesn't get a single line.
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It's almost as if this film is a thin slice of some vast global co-production with every country filming its own section of the story and making use of any overlapping scenes. Somewhere there must be a German film all about her character's story.
Ultimately, the magic of the film resides in the performance of Serbian film director Kusturica (Underground, Time Of The Gypsies). He is such forceful presence, a great bear of a man. The way the vast tectonic plate of his forehead tries to crush down on his face makes him look like a descaled Klingon. He adds heart and dignity to this fascinating historical drama.
Dir: Christian Carion
With: Emir Kusturica, Guillaume Canet, Alexandra Maria Lara and Willem Dafoe