(2009) *** Unrated
118 min. Neoclassics Films. Director: Christian Carion. Cast: Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Alexandra Maria Lara, Diane Kruger, Willem Dafoe, Fred Ward, Niels Arestrup, Dina Korzun.

/content/films/4029/1.jpgPoet Hillaire Belloc once reflected, "When friendship disappears then there is a space left open to that awful loneliness of the outside world which is like the cold space between the planets. It is an air in which men perish utterly.” On an international and interpersonal scale, Belloc might as well have been defining the Cold War, the  decades-long conflict between Western powers and Communist states. When pushes came to shoves, the tentative alliances between Cold War spies and defectors tested trust between men who needed each other to affect change, but could not necessarily trust one another to the end. This is the stuff of Christian Carion's Farewell (a.k.a. L'affaire Farewell), a story billed as being “Based on events which led to the fall of the Soviet Bloc.”

Farewell can also tout itself as what President Ronald Reagan called "one of the most important espionage cases of the 20th century," and for good measure, screenwriter Eric Raynaud and adapter Carion (Joyeux Noël) include scenes of Reagan (in a ticklish turn by '80s movie star Fred Ward) tracking the case's development from the Oval Office, circa 1981. Those scenes cheekily depict the Hollywood-loving Reagan deconstructing the shifting pov of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, even as we shift away to the ground-level players: KGB colonel Sergei Gregoriev (Serbian actor-director Emir Kusturica), code-named "Farewell," and his skittish intermediary, Moscow-based French engineer Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet).

As in John Schlesinger's underrated 1985 thriller The Falcon and the Snowman, Farewell's spy and contact have a tricky and ultimate strained relationship, further complicated by outside pressure. Pierre must answer to politicos demanding results and his increasingly nervous wife (Alexandra Maria Lara), while a willing Sergei at times seems to have a death wish in carrying out his plan for revolution. One character asks him, , “What do you want, your statue in the Kremlin?” But his willingness for self-sacrifice takes root in his hopes for his family's future, especially that of his Queen-loving teenage son (Evgenie Kharlanov). “I’m doing the dirty work no one else wants to do," he explains, though his son poignantly misunderstands his father's double-secret police work. The subtleties of Sergei and Pierre's most dangerous game parallel the broad strokes of Reagan and Gorbachev as the former proposes the quixotic Strategic Defense Initiative, a.k.a. the "Star Wars" program.

Based on Serguei Kostine’s book Bonjour Farewell, Carion's film admirably resists overselling the material: it's an adult espionage film, with no comic-book theatrics. Unfortunately, the film is also a bit soggy, never quite sharpening its edge or satire to the level of the most memorable espionage stories. Still, Sergei's heroically naive bravado gives us a strong rooting interest, while Pierre's moral struggle provides a more sadly relatable character: a man who fears his ineffectualness as a pawn in a bigger game plan. Ultimately, the victories and failures of this true story turn out to be gray areas, with information escaping, but a literal iron curtain clamping down between at least one hero and his life

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 4/12/2011

Distributor: Neoclassics Films

Farewell looks terrific in its Blu-ray release. The hi-def transfer does a lovely job of retaining a film-like appearance, with light grain but a total absence of blemishes; color and contrast is spot-on, retaining the film's generally muted appearance while putting the image across with crisp clarity and life-like texture. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix here is surprisingly lively, given the film's lack of conventional action. Rear channels spring to life with ambient noise (largely the chatter of smoke-filled rooms and such). Primary dialogue is nicely prioritized and never less than clear.

Echoing the DVD release, the Blu-ray doesn't have a lot to offer in the way of bonus features, but the true selling point is the hi-def presentation. Along with that, you get the "U.S. Trailer” (2:22, HD), a Photo Gallery (1:38, SD), and fourteen minutes of previews.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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