Saturday 17 March 2018

Movies: L'Affaire Farewell * * *

Spy Jinx
(12A, limited release)

Paul Whitington

A French-language espionage thriller directed by Christian Carion, L'Affaire Farewell is loosely based on an extraordinary true story.

Guillaume Canet (a director in his own right) stars as Pierre Froment, a mild-mannered engineer who's working in Moscow for the French government in the early 80s when he's approached by a KGB officer called Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica).

Sergei literally jumps into Pierre's car one day, and tells him he has become disillusioned with the Soviet Union and has some information that might be of interest to the West.

In fact, he has incredibly interesting intelligence about Line X, a network of Soviet spies who have successfully infiltrated Western governments and military and stolen invaluable scientific and industrial blueprints.

When Pierre contacts French government officials, they at first don't believe him, then try to replace him with a high-ranking operative. But Sergei will only deal with him, which makes life awkward as Pierre's wife is dead set against his involvement.

Pierre continues, but as the stakes get higher things become dangerous for him and his family, and Sergei has problems of his own too. His motivations seem high-minded, and in fact he's a Francophile, having fallen in love with French culture and language while stationed in Paris years before.

But like a true Frenchman, he has a mistress as well as a wife, and this personal complication might just be his undoing.

The idea of a committed communist whose head was turned by foie gras and Leo Ferré is very appealing, and the character of Sergei is the real strength of this film.

Serbian film-maker Kusturica is wonderful as the bearish, high-living KGB man, though he becomes a little less cuddly when you discover that Vladimir Vetrov, the real character he's based on, stabbed his mistress after succumbing to paranoia.

If Sergei's interactions with Pierre are the film's strong point, its fanciful excursions into geopolitics are less successful. Fred Ward makes a thoroughly ridiculous Ronald Reagan, and David Soul is even harder to take seriously as his adviser.

Philippe Magnan's François Mitterrand is hardly more credible, and there's a kind of B-movie hokiness around the edges of this film that really lets it down.

Over-excitable critics have compared it to The Live of Others -- it's hardly in that league, but is a breezily entertaining thriller.

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