If there is an award for the best looking spy film ever made, Christian Carion’s Farewell is a front runner. The movie, shot primarily in and around Moscow and out in the snow-blanketed Russian plains, sets its tale of state secrets and political intrigue against a backdrop of fading grays and iridescent whites. The film’s beauty feels fit for a romance, and in a way, Carion creates a kind of espionage romance between the mole and his contact.
The mole is Sergei Gregoriev, masterfully played by Emir Kusturica, and his contact is Pierre Fronment (Guillaume Canet), the husband of a French engineer who is working in Moscow. Based on a true story, Sergei is a tough-minded, idealist patriot and high ranking Soviet official who decides to leak classified information to the West with the hope of destablizing the current regime and inciting a second Communist revolution, one that would reform his country. He finds in Pierre a sympathetic deep-thinker, who gets wrapped into his unlikely spy role both for the romance of the job and his fraternal affection for Sergei. The two meet and exchange information, as well as thoughts about life, politics, and poetry. The information the two men smuggle out of Russia eventually makes its way through the French to President Ronald Regan (played by Fred Ward), and it is significant enough to give the United States the upper hand in negotiations with the Soviets through the 1980s.
It not easy to pull off casting major historical figures in serious films, and there are elements of the reenactment scenes that feel hokey. This has much to do with the film’s cracks at a kind of American disposition – determined and quick acting, if insensitive and unreflecting – and the film plays up the fact that a Frenchman played a significant role in the ending of the Cold War. Equally, it is difficult to make a successful spy thriller whose most exciting moments come from the intellectual exchanges of the two main characters.
Things get really interesting when this relationship between Pierre and Sergei finds itself caught between the hard-headed Americans and the dangerous Soviets. The Soviets are on to Pierre, his wife is fearful for their family’s safety, but his French handlers (at the prodding of the Americans) push to keep him in the field. It is not enough for Pierre to simply go home; he wants to save Sergei too. As the world starts to press in around them, Carion ramps up the suspense, artfully conveying a sense of anxious claustrophobia. In the unwinding intrigue, Sergei emerges as a profound and irresistible image – an incarnate existential ideal and a vision of truth as a casualty of war.