Farewell, Christian Carion, 113 mins (12A)
Insidious, James Wan, 102 mins (15)
The spy who came in for some cold champagne
Sunday 01 May 2011
These days the act of spying, of obtaining information on the sly, seems to have been lost in celluloid espionage.
The Bonds and the Smiths and the Salts (and to a lesser extent the Bournes) rely on adrenalin, not psychology or stealth, to engage us. It can become wearing.
So it's heartening to see a return by some filmmakers to the substance and modes of the Cold War. The film that's most whetting my appetite is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, with Gary Oldman as Smiley. Meanwhile, as a tasty primer, we have Farewell.
Based on the real-life Farewell Affair of the early 1980s, it concerns the decision by a KGB colonel to smuggle thousands of secret documents to the West, using as his conduit a French engineer stationed in Moscow. The pair are quite the odd couple. Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) is the droll defector, an idealist who knows his country must reboot itself, asking in return not for asylum, or cash, but champagne and French poetry. The other is nervous, tetchy Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), seduced by the charismatic Russian into risking the safety of his family.
The film is a hoot as it charts Gregoriev's nonchalant approach to treason, handing over stolen papers in parks, in cars, and while taking photos for tourists at a Communist monument. But director Christian Carion never allows us to forget that what seems mundane is also extremely dangerous. He moves deftly between the personal (as the habit of deceit invades both men's family lives) and the political, with first François Mitterrand, then Ronald Reagan (a colourful turn by Fred Ward) finding advantage in Gregoriev's information.
The acting is excellent all round, but the film would be a lesser animal without Kusturica. Showing as much bravura in front of the camera as he does as a director, the Serbian gives a warm, complex portrayal of a man who observes that "I live in lies, and solitude", yet who deserves so much more.
The marketers for Insidious may think they're covering all the bases by informing horror fans that the film "comes from the makers" of Saw (gore-heavy torture porn) and Paranormal Activity (chillingly effective haunted house). But there's no hint of the former (thankfully) and not enough of the latter; in reality, it's all over the place, with touches of Ghostbusters and, I swear, an echo of the Weeping Angels from Dr Who.
Soon after a family moves house, the eldest son falls into an unexplained coma. With the lad silent upstairs, mum is assailed by bumps in the night – an angry man's voice on the baby monitor, a mysteriously rocking chair, shadows in the corner of her son's room. A medium and her two geeky assistants call by to help.
It works for a bit, as parents Rose Byrne (who manages to seem spooked and spooky in the same moment) and Patrick Wilson (eerily vacant) add to the atmosphere of domestic weirdness and foreboding. But just when it's time to crank up the chills, a batty plot gets battier, and the tension subsides. The viewer is let off the hook, which in horror is the worst of crimes.
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