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I’m not sure of how many Cold War movies came out in recent years. The Lives of Others, obviously, was one of the best films in recent memory, chronicling the illegal publishing of articles in East Germany and the officer who secretly helped them. We can add Farewell to that list, another powerful movie about the passing of Soviet secrets to the west.

What made each of these movies great was the human tales they told. With Farewell (which I’ll be sticking to from here on out), a Frenchman, Pierre, living in Moscow becomes involved with the passing of those secrets. He becomes above suspicion and is able to transfer everything without trouble. His wife, Jessica, is suspicious, and when she learns the truth, she wants no more of it. She’s more concerned for her children, of which they know nothing.

The soviet in the film, Gregoriev, has a family of his own, much smaller and older than Pierre. The love is lost between himself and his wife, and the relationship with his son is lukewarm at best, especially when the mistress unexpectedly shows up at the house one day.  Gregoriev can’t be trusted, nor can he trust others with the secrets that he has, save for Pierre, his French contact and secret passer.

During the course of the film, Gregoriev passes secrets to Pierre, who goes to his government contact, and then that gets passed along to both the French government and the United States government.  Neither of them are too trustworthy of each other: Reagan is against the French electing communists to their government, even if the election was fair, and the French find the US too pushy.  The film isn’t anti-US – this is a French film – rather, by the end of the film, it’s against the utilitarianism that dominated Cold War politics.  Pierre becomes disenfranchised with the prospect of living in America as a result of what occurs, while Gregoriev, well, he hints at what will occur to him throughout the film.

Powerful, with great performances all around, and beautifully shot.

A

Note: this film is playing at the Ritz Five right now, and will be opening in Ambler soon.

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I’ve come to the realization that I still don’t know what the title means in reference to the film. Is it Omar’s journey to Ocho Rios, the secluded ranch in Uragray? Is it Jules, the writer who shot himself on the premises? Is it his brother Adam, or his adopted son Pete, who live in quietly seclusion, yet want more for the other person? Is it Jules’ widow Caroline, who desperately wants out of Ocho Rios? Or is it Jules’ mistress, Arden, who is yearning for a new human connection?

I really don’t know. I almost don’t care.

That’s a little harsh. The film isn’t entirely without remit; it’s a film that just seems to go somewhere, but not really. It might just be the characters themselves: Omar doesn’t have much motivation to write an authorized biography about Jules, though he needs to for completing his doctorate in English. His girlfriend, Deirdre, has one personality: overbearing. The script gives her nothing other than making pushing Omar around. It’s almost like the biography is hers to write; the story works for her character, but it’s so underdeveloped that I really had no feeling or compassion for her at all, especially when we see her at the end of the movie.

The most interesting dynamic at Ocho Rios comes between Adam and Pete. Adam wants Pete to move on, having adopted him 25 years prior. Pete would rather not: he has great plans for the ranch, but his hands are tied by an unmoving Caroline. This plot does resolve itself well enough. The relationship, meanwhile, is a strange one. At first glance, I considered them to be lovers of sort (Pete laying naked to a clothed Adam in one scene suggested that), but I think there is a deeper love, extending beyond that of a conventional relationship. Pete owes everything to Adam; it’s devotional, but it’s almost quite familial as well. This is the most interesting aspect in the film.

Caroline, meanwhile, stubbornly refuses to have a biography written about Jules. She doesn’t give much of a reason – she doesn’t need to give one really – but her stubbornness is quite frustrating at times. She does hide a manuscript that Jules was working on before he killed himself, on which the contents reflected life on Ocho Rios, in a somewhat fictional way. That’s probably why she doesn’t want one, but she never explicitly states so, even after finally agreeing to allow the biography to be written.

The mistress, Arden, is almost exactly like Omar: no thought of her own, some wandering child in a field type character. She has a connection with Omar almost right away, one as a yearning for human contact, but also with a potential romance between them. There’s more between the two characters: an early conversation seems to suggest that fate drew them together. But, they’re easily the most unlikable characters in the film, simply because they have no single individual thought between them. They do eventually exhibit some sort of independence in the world (Arden decides to allow the biography to be written after originally going against it, Omar decides to confront Caroline himself over the authorization of the biography), and in each other, but by then I lost all conviction for believing in them.

The scenery was nicely shot, both inside and around Ocho Rios. The ranch felt like a jungle hideaway, with lush green trees and a crystal clear lake on the premises. The surrounding landscape, meanwhile, was a sort of underdeveloped desert, with unpaved roads and open farm lands.  A school bus runs along the road, and cattle are driven through the fields that line the road.  The two places are nicely contrasted.  The music was subtle as well, and non-intrusive.

Still, I’m not completely sold on the film, and the epilogue, which advances the film three years after the resolution, does nothing but add frustration.  Somewhat decent in parts, but on a whole, not really worth it.

C+