by director Christian Carion
Few people know of the Farewell Affair, which played such a crucial part in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
I wanted to tell this story in film, not simply because it deserves its place in public memory, but also because I felt really drawn to certain aspects of the story.
It is first and foremost a humanistic tale. One man in Moscow in 1981 decided to do something to change things, and 8 years later, everything changed.
I like when the seeming footnotes of history impact on the bigger picture and when the destiny of the world is changed as a result. In a certain sense, Farewell is an extension of my last film. While the men in Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) performed an unthinkable act which would have no real incidence on the march of history, here, in Farewell, a single individual plays a major part in changing the worldwide scheme of things…
I found the idea of inter-cutting scenes of daily life in Moscow with the atmospheres which reign in the halls of power, such as the Elysée Palace in Paris or the White House in Washington, particularly attractive. The general public is far more partial to the world of politics than we think. I wanted to show how a number of documents photographed in Moscow could bring together two men, who in theory were totally incompatible: Ronald Reagan and François Mitterrand.
Another feature of this tale is that we don't know the whole story, and probably never will. It is only fitting that an espionage affair maintains its shadow side.
In the course of my research I quickly understood that each country, each intelligence service, had its own vision of things. And above all, dare I say, the real Farewell must have been a very complex figure indeed, a man of many facets. Sticking slavishly to reality, while writing the screenplay, didn't seem to make much sense. So my initial postulate was: this is a film based on real events. This, I feel, provided a degree of poetic licence, which I fully uphold.
All the names, with the exception of the political figures, were changed. Apart from the heads of state, I didn't seek to reproduce any real physical resemblance. Besides a handful of changes to the true story, for the sake of dramaturgic coherence, I give my own interpretation in the film as to why Farewell was eventually unmasked in Moscow. I based this interpretation on certain "odd" elements which gradually led me to imagine another explanation of those put forward by certain protagonists in the affair.
Lastly, I wanted to make Farewell because it's the very opposite of a James Bond movie! No superheroes here: these are ordinary people, beautiful at times and pathetic too...
No sophisticated gadgets: the modus operandi used by Farewell to pass on information to the West was totally basic, and hence undetectable...
No goodies or baddies: each character has their own reasons for acting as they do, their own logic, understandable and acceptable by all. And that is precisely what is unsettling and interesting...
Farewell is based on what is, to my mind, a wonderfully exciting cast. The French, Russian and American acting cultures bring an inestimable wealth to the film. I won't go through the whole list of actors here, but I feel it is important to mention the duo made up of Guillaume Canet and Emir Kusturica.
This tandem forms the backbone of the film. It deeply irrigates the rest of the work with a strong humanity, via touches of humour, comical play and terse emotiveness which the two actors managed to convey. Guillaume's acting, I feel, has taken on a tremendous maturity and depth. As for Emir, this was his first leading film role. On the strength of a genuine freshness of style and undeniable charisma, he has entered, in the nicest way possible, the acting major league. Of that I am convinced.
Reconstituting 1980s Moscow wasn't easy, especially when it wasn't possible to shoot in the Russian capital... Yet weeks of preparation based on the study of period archives and countless "tourist" strolls through the old quarters of Moscow, enabled us, I feel, to give a genuine Muscovite feel to Kiev. I really wanted it to be believable. Of course, the precious help of special effects brings an added touch of realism.
In the studio, the head set-designer managed to reconstitute the Moscow apartments with genuine verisimilitude, but also created a true life-size copy of the White House's famous oval office... A gift.
As for the Elysée Palace, I would like to thank the current team for having allowed us to set up a movie camera within its famous walls: a premiere indeed. Not to mention, the odd sensation of seeing Mitterrand (the actor) seated once more at his desk.