Friday, September 18, 2009

TIFF 2009 Reviews: L'Affaire Farewell

Man, I really wish it would rain. If nothing else, this TIFF will be remembered for the unprecedented gorgeous weather that persisted for its entire run. It’s especially notable in comparison to last year’s week-long Dagobah-in-July mugginess. Personally, I find it all a bit unsettling; just one day of lining up in the rain would help ease us into the autumn, the festival being that sad occasion where the serious moviegoing population of Toronto exits the AMC on the second Saturday night after Labour Day into a light drizzle and sighs “well, that was summer.” The natural transition point of the seasons has been well out of whack for two years in a row now. I blame Al Gore.

Anyway, day 9. After swinging by Hollywood Canteen to pick up a flyer for next week’s memorabilia show—I never go to those but it’s got three Bond-related guests, including George Lazenby, lined up—and taking care of some banking, I meandered down to the AMC for another movie that’s been getting quite terrific advance praise, Christian Carion’s L’Affaire Farewell. Early arrivals were herded back down the escalator to the food court and lined up in a vacant room overlooking Yonge-Dundas Square, where Don’t Look Back played under the makeshift bandshell, then we headed back up stairs after a while and ¾ filled the theatre...I’ve never seen so many unfilled seats as I have this year. I imagine it’s economic, fewer people seeing fewer films, but it’s also that time of the week.

I should state right off the bat that I have no idea if this cold war thriller is based on an actual event. I sort of assumed it was, but it occurred to me later that it’s the kind of story that would remain classified for decades if it were true, so if it is based on real people, it’s no doubt been changed beyond recognition. The film itself is terrific, I’d say its relation to other spy movies is like Donnie Brasco’s relation to other gangster movies, namely that it shows the mundane yet still deadly day-to-day workings of a certain mysterious business, with all the cinematic excitement stripped away. Farewell exudes authenticity. There’s not one moment over the course of the film when you aren’t convinced that real life espionage behind the Iron Curtain carried on exactly as its portrayed.

It’s also got some very curious casting. Director Emir Kusturica plays the Soviet government official leaking state secrets, Willem Defoe (in one of three movies he’s got at TIFF this year) plays the head of the CIA and Fred Ward plays President Reagan without the slightest hint of parody or irony, and actually manages to look uncannily like the 40th president. And oh yeah, there’s David “Hutch” Soul as another White House aide. Yeah, that credit kinda made me do a double take as well.

Anyway. Pretty solid film, a great dissection of realpolitik and a pretty perfect time capsule of a bygone era. Not a bad pick. (***1/2)

No comments: