Christian Carion’s Cold War espionage thriller “L’Affaire Farewell” brings to life the cynical hall-of-mirrors atmosphere first introduced to audiences in “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.” Sterling production design and a tight script recall the paranoid posturing of both the USSR and the US, on the brink of nuclear warfare.
The astonishing true story is based on Serguei Kostine’s 2009 book “Bonjour Farewell”, which finally revealed how KGB man Vladimir Vetrov toppled the Soviet Union by leaking spy secrets to the west. Foregoing flashy stunts, Carion places historical events in their ideological context, replaying esthetics of spy films of the time to bring the Cold War to life for a new audience.
Guillaume Canet (“Joyeux Noël”) stars as Pierre Froment, a French electronics executive tapped by his boss to serve as a reluctant conduit between a Russian spy and the French secret service. Believing communism had been betrayed by the corrupt Soviet system, Idealist Colonel Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) leaks state secrets about Soviet penetration of Western intelligence, in order to bring down Brezhnev’s and Andropov’s regime.
Hoping for a revolution, he risks his life to leave a better USSR for his teenage son Igor (Evgenie Kharlanov). Rebellious Igor, unaware of his father’s courageous sacrifice, scorns his KGB work.
All the ex French-translator asks for, in exchange, are good French Champagne, Queen Cd’s for his son and a book of French poetry. The inscribed book, that once belonged to Pierre’s wife, leads to his discovery.
Goaded by various heads of state, the ‘odd couple’ topple the regime. The enormity of the leaks and the loss of their moles push the Soviets towards Perestroika.
Pierre and family live in a French compound in Moscow. He assumes the materials he’s passing to his boss are of middling interest. Imagine his surprise when he’s summoned by Vallier (Niels Arestrup), the head of the French Secret Service. Grigoriev’s high level materials reveal how deeply the Russians have penetrated Western military secrets. They have complete engineering plans for the space shuttle and even the door codes for the White House.
Canet (who directed “Tell No One“) subtly limns the anxious bourgeois family man who rises to the occasion. While Pierre plays down his involvement to wife Jessica (Alexandra Maria Lara-“The Baader Meinhoff Complex“), Mitterand (Philippe Magnon), decides to share the information with Ronald Reagan.(Fred Ward.) Uneasy working with the French socialist premiere, once Reagan realizes the CIA is riddled with KGB moles, he calls in the agency, represented by Agent Feeney (Willem Dafoe.) The CIA’s desire to identify agent “Farewell”, leads them to shop Grigoriev to his superiors.
ironically, as the stakes raise, Grigoriev becomes more reckless in his spying. He passes materials in daylight in public. He carries a briefcase stuffed with papers through his office or sits at his boss’s desk to snap copies of documents. Unable to come clean at home, Grigoriev has an affair with sexy KGG co-worker Alina (Dina Korzun). They boff in the archives. Under the pretext of answering an ad in the paper, Alina comes to his house to scope out his family life and wife Natasha (Ingeborga Dapkunaite.) Igor observes a stolen kiss and lays into his adulterous father.
Playing the disillusioned patriot Grigoriev, willing to betray his country to see it regain it’s ideals, charismatic vet director Emir Kusturica is the heart of the film, turning in a wrenching performance as a man, betrayed by his handlers, who pays the highest price for his ideal. His pug-ugly sexiness gives heart and brio to the film.
Looking nothing like the man, Fred Ward channels Reagan. His verbal flourishes and physical tics recall the Great Communicator in his prime. Amusingly, Reagan repeatedly screens scenes from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, as if he learned realpolitik from the movies.
Using Ukranian and Finnish locations, Carion captures the high Soviet Style, the wedding cake buildings and Lada-lined streets. Eric Raynaud’s no nonsense script details the somewhat shabby day to day realities of a spy in which no one, including those you spy for, can be trusted.