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Back in USSR

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Farewell is an intelligent, atmospheric Cold-War thriller in the best tradition of LeCarre and Charles McCarry, directed by Christian Carion, and based on a real-life case.

1981, Moscow: Pierre (Guillame Canet), a French technocrat, is mistakenly approached by the gregarious Grigoriev (eminent Serbian director Emir Kusturica). This Soviet officer, sick of the hidebound government of the USSR, aims to help push it over from the inside by passing on important information to the West.

The Russian believes the Frenchman must be a spy of some sort, and is surprised to find out that Pierre has almost no connections with the secret service. Pierre’s government asks the amateur spy to carry on, and a friendship develops.

Grigoriev takes his reward in champagne and French books, and in confessional time: a spy who lies to everyone has to have someone to confide in, occasionally.

Farewell’s art direction is immaculate; Carion aims to take you on a trip to the vanished USSR, dwelling over the frightening Martian/Gothic towers and neon-green corridors. Through rural scenes, the director proves why you could love that country while fearing its government.

The detours to the halls of western power are a little more problematic. It’s a treat to see Fred Ward again; Ward’s imitative powers are so strong that his Ronald Reagan it looks right to the last twitch, and is easily recognizable from across the room. However, Farewell’s interpretation of that lucky but foolish man is fairly limited. (It’s payback for every time we’ve Clouseauified French politicians).

Phillipe Magnan’s dour Mitterand is far more knowing. A dash of Willem Dafoe, as a CIA intelligencer, ices the film nicely; anyone who loves actors will relish the way Dafoe pronounces the phrase “serious problems.”