The fall of the Soviet empire is one of the most fascinating stories in world history. From their impressive advancements in technology to their scarily efficient espionage techniques, the Soviet empire gave the United States a worthy adversary for almost 50 years. But in the 80’s, their empire started to crumble and one reason was the defection of KGB agent Sergei Gregoriev by way of French intelligence. FAREWELL does a great job of telling this small story, but it misses the mark on giving us a broader look at some of the other events that surrounded Gregoriev and the fall of the Soviet empire.
The film revolves around the seemingly innocent French engineer, Pierre (Guillaume Canet), and his dealings with the Russian Spy nicknamed “Farewell” (Emir Kusturcia). In 1981, Farewell decided that he had had enough of the communist way of life and decided to hand over secrets to the French government through Pierre. Pierre was unwillingly chosen since Farewell refused to deal with anyone else. Over the span of about two years, Farewell and Pierre met several times and eventually, the information passed along was used to break down the Soviet spy network.
Spy movies can be extremely tough to pull off, but the hardest spy movies to make are the ones based on true stories. FAREWELL reminded me a lot of BREACH in that it was overly boring at times. As much as we like to think all spies are like James Bond, the truth of the matter is that most of them spend more time reading and sorting through documents than they do shooting at bad guys. Such is the case with Pierre and Farewell, who spend most of the movie talking and then dealing with their personal lives than doing any actual spy work. However, that’s not an excuse to make a dry movie. What they did and how they went about doing it were much more interesting than how they dealt with their wives afterwards. The dealings between them were fascinating, but there was never a sense of danger around either of them until the grand reveal at the end. As a top level Soviet spy is handing secrets over to a foreign operative, it would have been nice to have some sort of threat present that the audience could actually perceive.
We also needed more time on the ending. As the secrets made their way to the hands of those that could act on them, the names of the people involved were revealed and the Soviets went after them. This seems like an exciting time in the film and the “payoff” if you will. But everything was glossed over and with the exception of an intense scene at a border checkpoint, there was never any real danger or intense moments. The filmmakers became so involved with the family drama of each spy that they forgot they were actually making a spy movie.
I’ve always been a fan of spy movies (THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is one of my favorites), but don’t go into FAREWELL thinking you’re getting a spy movie. This is closer to being a family drama of two men involved with espionage. As much as I was excited to see FAREWELL, the end result was disappointing.
Video: Is it just me, or do all French films have an amber glow about them? Anyway, the film looked wonderful and even though the colors were subdued, the video presentation held true to the filmmaker’s intent.
Audio: This was a dialog heavy film and the audio was sufficient for what we needed.
Unfortunately, the disc is lacking in special features, except for a few trailers and a photo gallery.