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Under Review: ‘L’affaire Farewell’

— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —

Following a thorough read-through of Ayn Rand’s literary classic, “The Fountainhead,” a close friend and myself have been using the fictionalized tale of Howard Roark, a god-like architect who overcomes the struggles of the collective by remaining true to his own artistic form – though it is denounced by the likes of the Marx-esque Ellsworth Toohey, as a sort of encyclopedia to everything awesome. Now excuse me, I believe that I’m getting an angry phone call from Leonard Peikoff, who I’d always thought of as the leech to Rand’s genius. Okay, false alarm, but I’m pretty sure that he would not endorse my anti-intellectual use of “The Fountainhead” and he certainly wouldn’t like to read the sentence prior to this one.

But post-“The Fountainhead” life was difficult for me. I could not find another novel that captured my interest so flawlessly and a novel that was so easily quotable would be implausible to find, but I figured that I’d explore another spectrum of Rand’s life by purchasing her critically-acclaimed first novel “We the Living.” Unfortunately I don’t remember most of it, which is probably because the novel was boring as hell, lacked any sense of personality, and featured a simplistic draft of Howard Roark’s greatness. The only thing that I do remember is the fact that communist was a failed system and Soviet Russia was a horrible place to live in.

Now I mention this because I couldn’t shake Rand’s words throughout the entire screening of “L’affaire Farewell,” which of course, is based on the “incredible true story” (thank god for fictionalization) of Colonel Gregoriev, who in 1981 becomes disenchanted with the communist shindig and thus decides to change the world, which he does so by making contact with a French engineer by the name of Pierre, who is working in Moscow and who slowly collects documents that are handed over by Grigoriev. Of course, most of the documents pertained to the United States, and this caused French President, Francois Mitterrand, and Ronald Reagan to personally vet the documents from the source in Moscow, who they dubbed “Farewell.”

“L’affaire Farewell” which is both directed and written by Christian Carion succeeds simply because it does not contain the pulp of American espionage thrillers. It still remains thoroughly entertaining and a huge factor in that is Emir Kusturica’s performance as Sergei Gregoriev.

Kusturica portrays Sergei with an incredible amount of emotion and his performance never falters, unlike his co-star Guillaume Canet, who plays Pierre. Unlike Canet who faces steady rises and downfalls throughout the film’s running time and who remains bland at key points in the film, Kusturica continuously rises and this gives the character much more depth. The actor also presents the character’s ideals and his struggle to create a new world for his son, in a realistic and non-melodramatic manner and that alone is commendable. But the real golden moment in Kusturica’s performance remains his entire work during the third act – it’s simply brilliant.

“L’affaire Farewell” is also excellent in its scripting and pace. Here we have a film that most of us already know the conclusion to (more or less), but Carion manages to capture the audience’s interest for the film’s entire running time and this is due to beautiful chemistry and scenery – as mind-blowing as that may seem.

Yes, the scenery is what really captured my interesting. It wasn’t beautifully shot or anything but it just seemed “normal.” Usually films who explore such political themes over-blow Russia’s streets during that time period. Yes, there are subtle hints of struggle in this film and that’s exactly what I was hoping for. It does not seem fake, in fact, the blandness is what made the film excellent and in my opinion, it takes more talent to sculpt a set-piece without superfluities and make it interesting than to pack one with useless and dramatized additions.

“L’affaire Farewell” is definitely an individual in the pack of collective spy thrillers. Ayn Rand would be proud.

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Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMariusz.

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