Spy story with a French accent

The tense Cold War thriller is based on fact.

Guillaume Canet plays the French engineer who smuggles Russian documents to the West. Alexandra Maria Lara plays his unhappy wife.

'I married an engineer, not James Bond," says the unhappy wife of a Frenchman living with their children in Moscow in the early 1980s. She is being lied to, betrayed, by her husband - but it's not the usual marital strife.

Froment, bright, bearded, bespectacled, has become a conduit between East and West, smuggling top-secret documents delivered by a senior KGB officer, Grigoriev. The Russian's files have the potential to upend the whole Cold War paradigm.

Farewell, a French spy film based on real events, is fascinating not only for its glimpse of the machinations of government espionage agencies in the Reagan era (Reagan shows up, played by Fred Ward, watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on his White House TV), but for the toll such subterfuge takes on the men, and women, involved.

With two directors - Guillaume Canet, of Tell No One, and Emir Kusturica, of Underground - stepping in front of the camera to portray Froment and Grigoriev, Farewell is taut, tense, quietly compelling. Froment is the student in the relationship, Grigoriev the master. As they meet on subway platforms and park benches, exchanging information, they come to recognize in each other the emotional and psychic pain caused by their duplicity.

With Alexandra Maria Lara and Ingeborga Dapkunaite as the respective wives, and with an attention to period detail that's dead-on without being overdone, Christian Carion's Farewell is a smart and suspenseful thriller, but one that's grounded in the reality of the world we all live in - whether we're spies or engineers.


Farewell ***1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Christian Carion. With Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Fred Ward, and Alexandra Maria Lara. In French and Russian with subtitles, and in English. Distributed by NeoClassics Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 53 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

Farewell (L'affaire Farewell)

Directed by Christian Carion. With Guillaume Canet, Alexandra Maria Lara, Willem Dafoe, Fred Ward, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Dina Korzun, Emir Kusturica, David Soul. Distributed by Neoclassic Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 53 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().