Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Review of 'Farewell' (2009) (French)

Review of L'affaire Farewell (2009)

The French have made a fiction-based Soviet-era spy movie to tout the importance of French intelligence gathering to the Western victory in the Cold War. I say that not because I despise French self-importance but because that is the only logical explanation for the large number of scenes that have Mitterrand and Reagan even though those scenes do exactly bubkes in moving the plot forward.

Having said that, the movie is actually interesting in showcasing a type of traitor that betrays his country because he is a patriotic idealist and thinks he is doing the right thing for his country. Actually in the movie the traitor might perhaps better be described as a revolutionary traitor than a patriotic traitor given his commitment to destroying the system to see it rebuilt in a 'better' way. Now, there are a lot of negative value judgments in the word 'traitor', but in this case I am just using it to denote someone that betrays the trust placed in him by the institutions of his country. The Soviet system was evil to its core and betraying it was not in itself a reprehensible act. At the same time I sincerely doubt it that the traitor's family would be quiet as understanding in real life as they were in the movie. I can imagine them not being ideological communists but it is hard to imagine them not being completely conflicted about the situation that they find themselves in. Even if his family were not committed communists, the man did betray his country, but worse yet, he put them in personal danger thus undermining an even more basic familial trust.

The Americans are shown to be reprehensibly amoral as usual in contrast with the morally upright French main character. There isn't much difference in how spy agencies work so the use of Americans to demonstrate the inherent cruelty of the spy business is telling.

The other aspect here that is interesting is the way it presents the inclusion of the French Communist Party in Mitterrand's government. The American objection to such a scenario is presented as unreasonable interference in the internal affairs of an ally, even where it is a historical fact that the French Communist Party was a creature of the Soviets going all the way back to its beginning as a party. As such, the American concern was quite legitimate.

The grand political aspects of the movie are superfluous. They add very little to what makes the movie actually good - and that is a parallel view of the family drama that takes place in the lives of the French and Soviet spies and the close conspiratorial relationship that develops between the main characters who are both superbly acted.