You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

  • 'Changing the Game' Documentary

    Watch the First Trailer for Trans Documentary 'Changing the Game' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Another hurdle for trans rights could quite literally be the track and field hurdle. Transgender student athletes are put in the spotlight in the forthcoming documentary “Changing the Game,” set to premiere at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Variety has the world premiere of the doc’s first teaser trailer, which gives an in-depth look into the [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Box Office

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Conjures $2.8 Million on Thursday Night

    “The Curse of La Llorona,” the latest entry in Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Conjuring” universe, conjured $2.75 million from Thursday preview showings, while “Breakthrough,” a faith-based offering from Fox-Disney, brought in $1.5 million from its second day of screenings. “La Llorona’s” haul tops recent horror counterparts “Pet Sematary” and “Escape Room,” which each took [...]

  • Chinese Films Make the Cannes Lineup,

    Cannes: Chinese Films Make the Lineup, but Will They Make It to France?

    Cannes has chosen two mainland Chinese titles for its official selection: Diao Yinan’s “Wild Goose Lake,” in competition, and Zu Feng’s “Summer of Changsha,” for Un Certain Regard. Both films appear to have received the necessary official approvals from Chinese authorities to premiere overseas. But their journey to the Cote d’Azur is by no means [...]

  • Festival director Thierry Fremaux speaks to

    Cannes: Thierry Fremaux on the Lineup's Record Number of Female Directors, American Cinema and Political Films

    The Cannes Film Festival has unveiled a lineup for its 72nd edition that includes some high-profile Hollywood titles, genre movies and films from 13 female directors. The official selection has been applauded by many for mixing established auteurs like Pedro Almodovar (“Pain and Glory”), Terrence Malick (“A Hidden Life”) and Xavier Dolan (“Matthias and Maxime”) [...]


    Film Review: 'Nureyev'

    It would be absurd to say that Rudolf Nureyev lived, or danced, in anyone’s shadow. He was a man who leapt and twirled and flew onstage, all muscle but light as a feather, with a freedom and force that reconfigured the human spirit. There’s no denying, though, that over the last few decades, and especially [...]

  • Die Kinder Der Toten review

    Film Review: 'Die Kinder Der Toten'

    The hills are alive (or rather, undead), with the sound of music (also mastication and the moaning of zombies) in Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska’s experimental, dialogue-free, home-movie-style riff on Elfriede Jelinek’s “Die Kinder Der Toten” (The Children of the Dead). A seminal text in Jelinek’s native Austria, the 1995 book has never been translated [...]

  • Idol review

    Film Review: 'Idol'

    How many twists can a plot undergo before it snaps? This, more than any of the many political, moral and personal conundrums that snake through “Idol,” seems to be the question writer-director Lee Su-jin is most interested in posing with his extravagantly incomprehensible sophomore feature. A seedy political thriller by way of grisly revenge movie [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content