(For SI Blog readers kd36939, Gandhiji et al)
Farewell a.k.a. L’affaire Farewell (French) is simply the best spy film we’ve seen in our life.
And also the most sui generis spy film – we heard gun-shots only twice in the entire movie.
Eschewing Indian films like Khatta Meetha and Pudangadi oops Thillalangadi that have earned the withering scorn of critics, this past Saturday we went up to NYC, where Farewell is currently playing at Lincoln Plaza on Broadway and downtown at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on E.Houston St.
Hot as NYC was (94F) and resisting the soothing temptation to stay indoors folks came out in good numbers to see Farewell.
There were 60 some people for the 1:20PM show at Lincoln Plaza (Near Columbus Circle in Manhattan) and the 3:35PM show was sold out.
And this was for a French movie in a city where people increasingly find Queen’s English hard to comprehend!
Un-James Bond Like Spy Gem
For the venturesome folks who emerged from their comfortable cocoons braving the scorching elements, the payoff from Farewell was a richly rewarding experience.
A most un-Bond like engrossing spy film this one.
Without the action-trappings of fast and furious chases, bloody gun-fights and daring leaps from tall buildings to the top of a train, minus the tits and ass-flaunting pretty girls and sans the neat gizmos that turn the humble pen in the hands of James Bond into a deadly weapon with a flick of the wrist.
Based on a true story, Farewell is set in the Cold War era of 1981 when the erstwhile Soviet Union and the United States were locked in a state of constant tension and nuclear war was not considered an impossibility.
In this edgy environment, we espy our two main characters, a young happily married French engineer Pierre (Guillaume Canet) with two young children posted by his company in Moscow and the middle-aged KGB Col. Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) with a pleasant wife, a music-loving son and a hot mistress.
Spies come in various forms.
First, there are the spies who do it for money, then the spies who are blackmailed into doing the dirty and frequently dangerous deeds, the occasional spies like Philby and Burgess motivated mainly by ideology and, of course, the professional cadres who do it as part of their daily job.
And then there are those like Col. Sergei Gregoriev, who don’t fall into any of these above pigeon-holes.
A Higher Calling?
Col. Gregoriev turns a spy not for the glitter of the dollars nor are such people lured by the promise of a defector’s ticket for his family and himself.
The Colonel takes it upon himself to bring down the Soviet system because he’s become utterly disillusioned with the Communist system as it has turned out by the time of Brezhnev.
The Colonel’s modus operandi is simple but devastating in its impact – to offer the most valuable secrets of the Soviet Union to the West, secrets he hopes will be so damaging as to kill the system he loathes and eventually make the country a better place by the time his teenage son grows up.
The Colonel’s contact is the reluctant amateur Pierre, who’s forced into becoming the go-between for the French intelligence agency DST for obtaining precious, priceless secrets, of great value to the West.
Farewell, the name of the movie, derives from the code-name given by the French intelligence to this daring Cold War spy.
Amidst such great betrayals or heroic acts (depending on the prism through which you view life) as that of Farewell, can you expect a happy ending. After all, betrayals beget counter-betrayals, don’t they?
Well, a happy ending lies in the perception of the beholder experiencing it not the dodos sitting in the movie hall.
Were the ultimate results worth the great sacrifice and enormous risks Farewell took.
Happy or not, the ending is foreordained in this extraordinary drama. Both for Farewell and the Communist system that spectacularly collapsed just a few years later.
Serbian actor and director Emir Kusturica, who plays Col. Gregoriev, is one of those little known, extraordinary movie talents in the shadows.
In an era where talent-less buffoons often walk away with all the glory and all the money, it’s distressing that names like Kusturica evoke no recognition from most movie-goers.
Playing the traitor Colonel, Kusturica’s is a riveting performance.
Good actors shine in a variety of characters and managing a spectrum of emotions.
And Kusturica is no different.
As the daring spy, the devoted father, the not-so-faithful husband and lover of his interpreter colleague, in all of these settings Kusturica is a dynamo of virtuosity.
Actors like Kusturica make you believe, despite all your inclinations, that you are not sitting in a dark room with 60 strangers but playing voyeur into his life.
Such is the power of great acting and fine cinema.
Of course, we don’t expect you schmucks to know that Kusturica is a two-time Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, for the films When Father Was Away on Business and Underground. (Source: Wiki.)
Seeing Kusturica handle the character of Col. Gregoriev with aplomb we couldn’t help but wonder, are great actors born or is it rigorous training/countless hours of practice that make them so fascinating to watch on the screen.
In a movie-universe littered with the offal such as Abhishek Bachchan, Trisha Krishnan, Priyanka Chopra, Ajith, Aishwarya Rai et al we give thanks for the non pareil Kusturicas.
Guillaume Canet (director of Tell No One) is a fine actor too, as are the others in this charming movie. Just that Kusturica belongs in a rarefied league.
What an ensemble – superb acting, gripping story, solid screenplay even if the tense moments and twists are few, and decent photography.
To ask for more in a movie would be unseemly.
Farewell’s director Christian Carion deserves all the kudos and awards that are sure to be heaped upon this fine film.
Folks, if you are watching only one film this year, then it must perforce be Farewell.
Stop fretting now, the movie comes with neat English subtitles.