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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Film - Farewell - directed by Christian Carion

Star rating – 7/10

This Cold war espionage film is set in 1981 Moscow, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, it is based on a true story that allegedly helped to lead to the fall of that mighty empire. But is it not your usual slick spy thriller, as the man who is unwittingly employed as the conduit for secrets to be leaked to the Americans is far from a professional spy.

Sergei Grigoriev, played by Emir Kusturica, who is usually directing rather than starring in films, is a KGB agent who has become disillusioned with the Soviet system, and longs for the freedoms offered to those in the West. He has fond memories of Paris from years before, and so hand picks French engineer Pierre (Guillame Canet) as the person who will smuggle his secrets out of Russia. Pierre is extremely reluctant to be any part of this plan, but grudgingly goes along with Sergei in the hope of a better way of life for the Soviet people. He is not a very good spy though, and there are moments of hilarity, as when top secret plans that Sergei has passed to him fly away into the street through their open car window.

Director Christian Carion manages to recreate the threatening tension of 1980s Moscow through this grainy film very well. And the personal cost to both men is a significant one, as their families become involved in the plot without their knowledge or agreement. The political point is a powerful one, as, without giving too much away, the Americans they are passing secrets too are finally exposed as having no more moral scruples than their Soviet counterparts.

But it sometimes feels as though the exposure of this political point is explored to the detriment of the personal stories involved here. So where the brilliant ‘Lives of Others’ totally succeeded in making a powerful argument via individual stories, ‘Farewell’ slightly falls short of doing either. But it is still an engaging, interesting and accomplished piece, and excitingly features David Soul as an aide to President Reagan. Or is that just me showing my age? Well it may not have the thrills and spills of Starsky and Hutch, but it is a thoughtful and original piece of film making all the same.

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