×

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.

Director:
André Téchiné
With:
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

  • Dreamville Dreamers doc

    J. Cole's Watchful Eye, All-Nighters and Weed: Inside Dreamville's 'Revenge' Doc

    Having the No. 1 project in the country is old hat for J. Cole, but the instant success of Dreamville’s highly-anticipated “Revenge of the Dreamers III” collection, which features collaborations with more than 25 artists, writers and producers (among them: Cozz, Omen, Bas, J.I.D., EarthGang and Ari Lennox), took many by surprise. The first installment [...]

  • The True Adventures of Wolfboy

    Film Review: 'The True Adventures of Wolfboy'

    Most teenage boys would kill for a few whiskers, but not Paul. At 13, he already has a full face of hair, and his peers treat him like a freak for it. So, too, does Martin Krejčí’s “The True Adventures of Wolfboy,” although the movie argues that perhaps being a freak isn’t such a bad [...]

  • 'Top Gun: Maverick' Trailer: Tom Cruise

    Tom Cruise Drops First Trailer for 'Top Gun: Maverick' at Comic-Con (Watch)

    Tom Cruise made a surprise appearance at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday to hype the forthcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” and receive mass adoration from Hall H. “I felt it was my responsibility to deliver for you,” Cruise told the crowd, tugging local heartstrings by reminiscing on the original “Top Gun” shoot in Downtown San Diego. [...]

  • Tribeca Film Institute

    Tribeca Film Institute, Pond5 Announce Latest Indie Film Grantees (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) and Pond5 have once again teamed up to offer microgrants to indie filmmakers and artists. The grants, which go as high as $7,500, are intended to help storytellers during “in-between” phases of their projects, such as research, festival travel or community screenings. They’re the kind of unexpected costs that can lead [...]

  • On-Location Filming Slides 3.9% in Los

    On-Location Filming Slides 3.9% in Los Angeles in Second Quarter

    Held down by a lack of soundstage space, total on-location filming in greater Los Angeles declined 3.9% in the second quarter to 8,632 shoot days, permitting agency FilmLA reported Thursday. “Although our latest report reveals a decline in filming on location, local production facilities tell us that they are operating at capacity,” said FilmLA president [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    U.S. Box Office, Movie Admissions, Ticket Price Fall in Second Quarter

    U.S. movie admissions slid 2.5% in the second quarter of 2019 to 347.8 million, with box office receipts declining 3.8% to $3.22 billion on the heels of a record-setting year, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) reported Thursday. The overall ticket price for the quarter slipped 1.3%, or 12 cents, to $9.26, compared to [...]

  • Terminator: Dark Fate

    'Terminator: Dark Fate' Will Definitely Be R-Rated, Tim Miller Reveals at Comic-Con

    “Terminator: Dark Fate” is not just a reboot of a beloved franchise, it’s a return to hardcore form that will receive an R rating from the MPAA. Announced at San Diego Comic Con’s opening Hall H panel on Thursday, the move is a departure from the PG-13 status of recent reboot attempts like “Terminator: Genisys” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content