Farewell to the Night (L’Adieu à la Nuit)
In a covert and calm manner, Farewell to the Night might force audiences to examine their own prejudices. When watching this French tale of a woman confronted by her grandson’s unanticipated conversion to Islam and consequential radicalisation, some viewers might nod knowingly, thinking that, yes, this is exactly what is happening and is subsequently ripping apart the fabric of our nation – whatever that nation might in fact be. Others might think that such a story just reinforces negative preconceptions of Islam, before angrily tweeting about it and then heading off to a vegan poetry slam. Both mindsets are too simplistic an interpretation of director André Téchiné’s intricate and exceptional film.
Catherine Deneuve is Muriel, a horse breeder who runs a riding school in the Basque region of France. She’s quietly thrilled about the imminent arrival of her often-AWOL grandson Alex (Kacey Mottet Klein), who is visiting her en route to Canada. Muriel’s pleasure is not reciprocated. Alex is petulant, full of hubris and only perks up when he’s with Lila (Oulaya Amamra), a girl who Muriel raised like a daughter, and who he has known since childhood. Without ceremony or subterfuge, Muriel learns that Alex has become a Muslim. Unlike Muriel, the audience then quickly learns that her grandson has been radicalised, and along with Lila, plans to travel to Syria via Turkey (with a Canadian cover story) to join the ranks of jihadists.
Berlinale (and indeed, any film festival) is notorious for features that can be bogged down by a sense of their own worthiness. It’s not to say that filmmakers should be unambitious, but it can be a frustrating and baffling experience for moviegoers (and film critics) when this ambition flounders. There’s nothing wrong with a work of cinema that doesn’t try to innovate, has accessible themes and is comprised of a well-told, linear story. Farewell to the Night is exceptionally well-told, and it takes a tremendous amount of skill to make it seem this effortless.
Deneuve is flawless, giving a performance that is the definition of controlled, especially when she eventually and inevitably learns the scope of her grandson’s plans and has to make some painful choices. Screening in Berlinale’s contradictory Competition (Out of Competition) section, the film is ineligible for the festival prizes. This is a miscalculation on the part of the festival, since this gracefully gripping tale deserves recognition.
Farewell to the Night (L’Adieu à la Nuit) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Farewell to the Night (L’Adieu à la Nuit) here: