I discovered the film Farewell (2009) this past week. I checked it out of the public library’s new movie section and took it home to enjoy an evening with what struck me as a potentially good spy movie. It blew me away. It proved to be one terrific thriller and it is based on a fantastically true story. (There are a few small errors in the film that are out of place because of context, such as music and the reference to artists of this music and their actual time in history.) But the story itself is based upon one of the greatest spy plots of all time! It is entirely factual. Believe me and do yourself a favor and watch Farewell. Roger Ebert is right in giving Farewell four-stars.
In 1981, at the height of the Cold War, an ordinary French engineer based in Moscow met with KGB agent Colonel Grigoriev (real name – Vladimir Vetrov). Grigoriev had become disenchanted with what the Communist ideal had become under Brezhnev and decided he was going to change the world, mostly for the sake of his teenage son. Through his relationship with this French engineer the largest theft of Soviet information in history was placed in the hands of the French and then President Ronald Reagan. This was done incrementally and at high risk. This information demonstrated that the Soviets knew far more about the US than we could have ever imagined. Why? Moles inside our CIA and other services had leaked our secrets over time. This discovery so stunned Reagan and his aids that they decided to turn up the pressure on the Soviet Union and this led to the announcement of Star Wars, a program that helped to change the nature of the Cold War in a matter of months. Reagan himself called this theft of information through Grigoriev “one of the most important espionage cases of the 20th century.” Now you can see how it happened and the consequences of spying joined with political bluffs and power moves.
What makes Farewell so exciting is really the story line. But the actors, most of whom you will not know, are brilliant too. The dialog is mostly in French and Russian, with English subtitles, but the film moves along briskly. Once you understand the background to the story it is simply riveting.