Farewell

 

Farewell

[original title: L’affair Farewell]

Based on the book “Bonjour Farewell” by Serguei Kostine

Screenplay by Christian Carion & Eric Reynaud

Directed by Christian Carion

2009

 

Cast:

Emir Kusturica

Guillaume Canet

Fred Ward

Ingeborga Dapkunaite

Evgeniy Kharlanov

Oleksii Gorbunov

Alexandra Maria Lara

Willem Dafoe

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Pathé, Canal+ & France 2 Cinéma

Video: NeoClassics Films

 

Video:

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Pesolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD-25

Feature Size: 21 GB

Runtime: 113 minutes

Chapters: 16

Region: A

 

Audio

Russian, French & English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles: English

 

Extras:

• Photo Gallery

• U.S. Trailer

• NeoClassics previews

 

Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Release Date: April 26, 2011



Movie : 9

There are two scenes in Christian Carion’s political thriller “L’affaire Farewell” that are striking for their seeing not to forward the plot, yet effective for reasons that are subliminal and indirect.  One of these takes place well into the movie where we see the protagonist’s rebellious adolescent son in a field of grass on a mock stage, miming Freddy Mercury as he appeared in a 1981 concert with Queen singing “We Shall Rock You.”  The other takes place in the Oval Office where President Reagan is enjoying the “title scene” from “The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance” – twice: the first where Jimmy Stewart appears to kill Lee Marvin, and the second where John Wayne is shown to kill Lee Marvin.  The same scene shown from two different perspectives, each with their own truth.


     

 

Carion’s movie, it turns out, is a master class on the business of conflicting and changing perspectives in the context of espionage on a global scale – for “Farewell” (a curious choice of title for the American release, since it only makes sense if you know what the word refers to in this context) is about real world-changing events. Under Brezhnev, the Soviet Communist system was in deep trouble, and a number of highly placed officials were prepared to risk all to try to turn this around.  One of them, Vladimir Vetrov, called Sergei Grigoriev in the movie, a colonel in the KGB concluded that if the West were to know everything about the Soviet spy system including what the Russians knew about the West’s spy system, it should even the playing field and bring about sweeping changes on both sides, particularly in Russia.


     

 

Is Grevoriev a patriot or a traitor?  The KGB would certainly see him as kill-worthy, but how would the man on the street see him?  How would his family see him if they knew what he was about?  Could or should he risk telling them or not, given possible consequences.  Then again, how would the West see him?  Think about that before you answer, then watch the movie for what might be an unexpected perspective.

 

The movie centers on two characters: Grigoriev, and the man he chooses, carelessly it seems,  to pass on his secrets to, a French engineer working and living in Moscow who travels frequently to Paris, a nobody – the furthest thing from a James Bond, as he himself notes in the film, a man therefore above suspicion.  He is Pierre Froment, married, with two young children, and a temperament almost completely opposite to Grigoriev.  He is passive, almost amoral.  He is also not stupid, and he does see both the potential and the risk of what he is doing.  His wife knows only the half of it and eventually threatens to leave him for putting them at risk.


     

 

Again, the question of perspective, made all the more interesting because Froment is so vague about his own ethical position, unlike Grigoriev, who is as determined to bring about deep changes in the system as the KGB is to maintain the status quo.

 

Then there are the Americans and the French, each with their own agenda.  Carion is not beside going right to the top here: Reagan, Mitterand, Gorbachev (played by actors, not in cameo), among others, all have their say, each wanting to forward or protect their own interests, not all of which are clear.  The higher up we get the more parochial the response; the more parochial, the less willing to exploit an opportunity for change.  The higher the stakes, the more entrenched action and reaction.


     

 

Remember Igor, Grigoriev’s son?  Perhaps it is true everywhere that adolescents are more likely to rebel when they feel most oppressed.  Igor knows that his father is KGB and he knows what that organization stands for and how the people fear men in overcoats that could detain a seemingly random person out of the crowd.  What could symbolize his feeling about that more empathically than a half naked Freddy Mercury imploring his audience to “rock you.”  There is an insistent, hypnotic power in that song that cannot fail to grab you by the nether regions. The idea that the group is British, that their name is “Queen,” that their lead singer is a Parsi from Zanzibar, all must have a keen spit in your face effect on an imagined KGB officer – or one’s father.

 

But, as it happens, Igor doesn’t have a clue about his father.  Perspective.


     

 

The two principle actors are both well know directors in their own right and seem to speak Russian and French with ease.  In fact, no Russian actor would be “permitted” to act in this film about a traitor – even now! – and Carion settled on Bosnian Emir Kusturica who had to take lessons to turn his native Serbian into passable Russian.  Kusturica has directed several award-winning films, such as “Underground” “Black Cat White Cat” and Arizona Dream.” He has those baggy, world weary eyes that seem at odds with an indomitable spirit and persuasive physical presence. Guillaume Canet, who made the excellent thriller “Tell No One” plays Froment, and a more hesitant dramatic character you aren’t likely to come across anytime soon.  Willem Dafoe and Fred Ward are a top CIA official and President Reagan, respectively.  Diane Kruger jogs on for a cameo so brief you could easily miss her.  Philippe Magnan is President Mitterand.  The lovely Alexandra Maria Lara seems underused, but is compelling in every scene.  Ingeborga Dapkunaite and Evgeniy Kharlanov are Grigoriev’s wife and son – both achingly brilliant.


     

 

Critical Reaction:

[new yorker]

Treating espionage as a fantasy liberates action filmmaking, but a dramatization of how espionage actually works turns out to be a lot more interesting. In the mesmerizing French spy movie “Farewell,” which is based on a true story, the time is April, 1981, in a sunny but morose Moscow [where} monolithic statues of scowling Soviet heroes loom over public squares and parks, a farcical reminder of old victories, old illusions. In a mood of fervent disgust, a K.G.B. colonel, Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica), decides that, if the country is to survive, the old order must be destroyed. He approaches a young French engineer, Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), who is working in Moscow for a French company, and dumps important secrets in his lap. . . Violating every canon of spycraft, Grigoriev meets Froment openly—in the subway, in automobiles, at a playground. The men, utterly different in temperament, fight like a married couple but draw close, sharing personal as well as professional secrets. - David Denby


     

 

[chicago sun times]

 [Carion] has an eye for unusual, atmospheric touches — the kinds of striking little things you notice in the world and think: “Somebody should put that in a movie” — like the way light filters through trees (from the sun or a helicopter spotlight), a face illuminated for a split second in the back seat of a parked car at night, or a kite spotted by a man who's driving with his head out the side window. - Roger Ebert

 

[elle]:

Farewell’s portrait of a totalitarian state is more effective for being unemphatic; you feel the daily insult of a system in which people on a subway platform reflexively look elsewhere when KGB men flash a badge at a woman and haul her away. Who is she? What has she done? Nobody wants to know. Carion shows how fear spreads corruption like a virus, infecting everyone until it becomes a backdrop that makes acts of conscience, heroism, and simple kindness stand out in stark relief. L’Affaire Farewell isn’t about us versus them; by the movie’s end, no country’s hands are clean. Its real subject is repression: Totalitarianism eventually fails because it’s a lousy fit with human nature. – Karen Durbin


     


You can also find a lengthy interview with Brad Balfour and the director, Christian Carion, about his movie HERE.

 

Image: 9/9

NeoClassics presents “Farewell” in a high bit rate, AVC encode that looks very filmlike: with clean, clear facial structure and proper flesh tones, wispy hair, murky fog, noiseless blacks, unenhanced edges and excellent contrast control.  The Queen concert footage is so well integrated into the movie that if you weren’t certain, you could have mistaken it for a recent mimicry.  In short, a bloody good transfer that appears to do justice to the filmmakers’ intentions.


     

 

Audio & Music: 6/8

NeoClassics offers two audio tracks: the original 2-channel, weakly conveyed in Dolby Digital and a 5.1 DTS-MA in which everything is rendered with heightened effect.  I am of two minds about this mix: the first is that every sounds is distinct and ripe, bordering on voluptuous.  The sound of a passing street bus carries powerful weight, you can feel the air move as birds take off in fright, every spy-filled nuance is exquisitely captured, from the click of a Minox to the turn of a page.  I imagine most people are going to fall all over themselves about this.

 

So what’s my problem?  Simply that the balance makes no sense to me.  Everything seems to have equal or exaggerated weight in ways that don’t add up.  As a city bus takes off after dropping off passengers, it’s sound is so convincing and so enormous we feel as if we are under it.  The bus has no dramatic connection to the plot; it’s simply astonishingly clearly and dynamically recorded.  When Grigoriev and Froment converse as passers by pass by, the balance gives far too much weight to what should be in the background – as it is in the stereo mix.  Much of the music score often feels out of phase as it is relegated largely to the rear channels.  Fortunately the clip from a 1981 Queen concert is done well in this respect.


     

 

The only interpretation that I could come up with that could explain this, aside from a what seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the function of surround sound, is that the audience is being treated to a subjective experience by the characters.  Perhaps.  But it doesn’t explain the music and some of the effects – or maybe it does.  I’m of two minds here, as you can see.

 

Extras: 2

The absence of historically relevant bonus features is keenly felt for a movie such as this.  All that is provided are some trailers and a photo gallery. The photo gallery is a minute and a half slide show in good quality 16x9 anamorphic SD that shows still form the movie against a moody portion of the score (the same music that is used behind the menu).  It’s nice for what it is, though too brief.


I should note that the optional subtitles are translations into English of the French and Russian.  The English dialogue itself is not subtitled.  Also, the runtime for the feature film is incorrectly listed on the back cover as 118 minutes.  In fact, it is 113 minutes, as it is listed on the French Blu-ray edition.


     

 

Recommendation: 8

I took off one point for the lack of bonus features and another for the questionable audio.  Otherwise this Blu-ray would have qualified for a full 10 points.  The movie is outstanding by any measure and the image quality does it proud.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 8, 2011


     


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