QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM BERLIN
Muriel breeds horses somewhere in the Occitanie region of France, not far from the Spanish border. She is played by a 75-year-old Catherine Deneuve, who has subverted the rules of ageing by looking younger every year. One day she receives the visit of her 18-year-old son Alex (Kacey Mottet Klein), who has become increasingly attached to his childhood friend Lila (Oulaya Amamra). While abroad, Alex remained in touch almost daily with the pretty young lady. One sunny day (quite literally, as the film takes place during the first days of Spring, mostly in the bright outdoors), Muriel catches his son (low and behold…) praying in Arabic (shock!!!).
The quiet and introverted Alex has converted to Islam. He is confident that he will enjoy a very happy and fulfilling “second life” after he says goodbye to his current dark existence (hence the film title Farewell to the Night). Lila has become his closest associate, and she shares his convictions and ambitions. Gradually, the horrific truth emerges. Alex and Lila intend to leave everything behind in order to become jihadis in Syria. They are convinced that this is the way forward, and no one can dissuade them from their holy purpose. So Muriel takes matters into her own hands, resorting to very desperate measures in order to prevent her beloved son from embarking on a journey presumably of no return. An ankle-monitor-wearing jihadi defector lends Muriel a helping hand. But their quest isn’t straighforward and simple.
Farewell to the Night is an auspicious movie because Techine is an accomplished storyteller with more than five decades of experience making films. The story is both riveting and plausible, with strong performances by the three leads. There is an important message about the failure of capitalism driving young people to religious fundamentalism. Alex and the other young people recruited by radical Islam have never been in trouble, and there is nothing wrong with them. They are simply bored of an increasingly consumerist and futile society. They are seeking a noble purpose and also a “Summer adventure”, we are told.
But there is also a very significant political issue with Farewell to the Night. It fails to distinguish between radical and moderate Islam, which is very dangerous in an increasingly racist and Islamophobic France and Europe. All Muslims in the film – bar the defector – are brainwashed fundamentalists. The message is: “Islam is evil and it’s corrupting our children”. Hardly a positive statement when we face the very real threat of the far-right. France has infamously banned veils in public, in a sheer gesture of Islamophobia disguised as a “freedom” statement. There is also a subtle and cringe-worthy apologia to the anti-terrorism laws, conveniently forgetting to mention that such legislation represent the erosion of our personal freedoms. Marine Le Pen will probably love Farewell to the Night.
Farewell to the Night is showing as part of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, which is taking place right now. Andre Techine’s last two films Being 17 (2016) and Golden Years (2017) were far superior and yet never saw theatrical distribution in the UK. Farewell to the Night may well make it to UK cinemas, simply due to the presence of über-actress and USP Catherine Deneuve.