Berlin Film Review: ‘Farewell to the Night’

Though aiming for a more balanced picture of Arabs in Europe than most directors, André Téchiné still stumbles into narrative pitfalls in this superficial jihadist recruitment drama.

André Téchiné
Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein, Oulaya Amamra

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8569390/

Of course a filmmaker of André Téchiné’s standing doesn’t simply “toss off” a feature, but it remains dispiriting that a director who can make emotionally trenchant movies — including the recent success “Being 17” — is also able to turn out duds like “Farewell to the Night.” Though “based on an original idea,” there’s very little originality in this story of a woman (Catherine Deneuve) discovering her grandson has been radicalized by Islamist extremists. As one of the more inclusive Western directors when it comes to Arab talent, Téchiné aims for a bit of character balance, but in the end, the film stumbles into the usual banal pitfalls and features some truly lamentable scenes. A modest Euro release is the best that can be expected.

Clunky chapter demarcations — “First day of spring 2015,” “Second day of spring 2015,” etc. — unintentionally call attention to how slowly each day passes rather than lend the narrative a sense of urgency. Muriel (Deneuve) is an independent woman in the French Basque region with a large horse farm and cherry orchard. She’s excited that grandson Alex (Kacey Mottet Klein, “Being 17”) is coming back, and not particularly bothered that he dropped out of med school. Though perhaps not entirely thrilled he’s in a relationship with Lila (Oulaya Amamra, “Divines”), a nurse’s aide and ranch helper he’s known since childhood, Muriel wants to be nothing but supportive.

What she doesn’t know is that Lila has radicalized Alex, now a Muslim convert, or that the two are gathering money to join ISIS in Syria. “What will you do if I die?” he asks his fresh-faced, eager-eyed young girlfriend. “I’ll be proud of you,” comes the expected response. The script tries hard to make Lila a more three-dimensional figure than is usually granted to such a character, and in part it works, thanks greatly to Amamra’s charisma. She’s warm and kind to the seniors in her care at a nursing home, so she’s not a monster, yet as a clumsy scene with other jihadists shows, she’s also not fully aware of what she’s getting into, which makes a late revelation that the cops have had their eyes on her for six months ring false.

About that clumsy scene: Téchiné awkwardly cuts back and forth between a celebratory secular luncheon Muriel attends, where a bouncy teen girl incongruously dances around in her bra, and a jihadi gathering with Lila, sporting a hijab for the first time, excitedly talking with a woman recently returned from Raqqa. Yes, we get the contrast, but does it have to be so over-the-top and poorly edited? Also, does Alex need to be so one-dimensional? With his character stuck on “earnest” mode, he’s depicted as an angry young man still processing his mother’s death and searching for a meaning to life. While the profile fits many Western jihadis, the script keeps him a cardboard cut-out, a simulacrum of radicalized white boys that makes him no more “like us” than Bilal (Stéphane Bak), the couple’s Islamist mentor.

When Muriel is alerted that Alex has forged her signature on a few checks, she examines his room and finds the farewell note he conveniently left next to his computer, stating his intentions. Not knowing what else to do, she lures him into the stables and padlocks the door, then calls Fouad (Kamel Labroudi), a former jihadist fighter who repentantly came back to France and turned himself over, hoping he can talk sense into her grandson.

Fouad is the best-drawn character here, even if he’s clearly designed to fill the role of the “good young Arab” rejecting ISIS after a brief flirtation. Otherwise, the film is a flat drama about a real issue, given the depth of a TV movie-of-the-week. Téchiné is attuned to how Arabs are generally treated in the media, so he includes Muriel’s foreman Youssef (Mohamed Djouhri), a moderate, assimilated Muslim angry at the way his religion has been hijacked by extremists, and several of the extremists themselves are seen as confused people who’ve latched onto a philosophy they don’t truly understand. Conceptually the biggest flaw is in the Alex character, crying out for more shading in order to make him come alive.

Deneuve’s role isn’t weighty enough to carry the picture, and the silly scene of her locking Alex into the stable does no one any favors. This is the director’s sixth film with DP Julien Hirsch (and his eighth with Deneuve), with whom he’s developed a visual language foregrounding controlled camera movements that elegantly bisect and circle around space. There are many visual pleasures to be had in “Farewell to the Night,” especially among the blossoming cherry trees and the contrast between sea and mountains around Perpignan, but they’re not enough to paper over the film’s significant narrative and construction flaws.

Berlin Film Review: 'Farewell to the Night'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Out of Competition), Feb. 11, 2019. Running time: 101 MIN. (Original title: “L’adieu à la nuit”)  

Production: (France-Germany) An Ad Vitam release (in France) of a Curiosa Films presentation of a Curiosa Films, Bellini Films, Arte France Cinéma, ZDF/Arte, Legato Films, Films Boutique production, with the participation of OCS, Arte France, in association with Ad Vitam, France Télévisions Distribution. (Int'l sales: France TV Distribution, Paris.) Producer: Olivier Delbosc. Executive producer: Christine de Jekel.

Crew: Director: André Téchiné. Screenplay: Téchiné, Léa Mysius, based on an original idea by Téchiné, Amer Alwan. Camera (color, widescreen): Julien Hirsch. Editor: Albertine Lastera. Music: Alexis Rault.

With: Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein, Oulaya Amamra, Stéphane Bak, Kamel Labroudi, Mohamed Djouhri, Amer Alwan. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • Ghost Fleet review

    Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet'

    The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The Wandering Earth'

    Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The movie was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year. It opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished it. After 14 days in theaters, the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT More Reviews Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess' Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet' Gerard McMurray, director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content