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IFI French Film Festival 2019 Review - FAREWELL TO THE NIGHT

farewell to the night review
A young man steals money from his grandmother to fund a trip to Syria, where he hopes to join up with ISIS.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: André Téchiné

Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein, Oulaya Amamra, Stéphane Bak, Kamel Labroudi

farewell to the night poster

There are few people more insufferable than a white person who discovers religion, particularly if it's someone else's religion. That's the case with Alex (Kacey Mottet Klein), the sullen young man at the centre of André Téchiné's simplistic yet somewhat engrossing drama Farewell to the Night.

farewell to the night review

Alex arrives to spend a few days at the home of his grandmother Muriel (Catherine Deneuve), where she runs a successful riding school. Muriel is delighted to see her grandson after a prolonged absence, unaware that in recent months he's become radicalised and plans to sneak into Syria with his girlfriend Lila (Oulaya Amamra), where they hope to join up with ISIS.

[ READ MORE: IFI French Film Festival 2019 Review - Lullaby ]

Muriel learns of her grandson's conversion when she stumbles upon Alex knelt in prayer. When she questions Alex about his new faith, in a manner that's outwardly curious but inwardly disapproving, Alex refuses to discuss it. He continues to treat his grandmother in a cold and cruel fashion, even going so far as to steal several thousand from her bank account by faking her signature on a series of cheques. When Muriel discovers the money has left her account, she searches Alex's room and finds plane tickets charting a planned journey to Barcelona and on to Istanbul, the traditional gateway for wannabe Jihadists to cross into Syria. Putting two and two together, Muriel begins to understand Alex's intentions.

farewell to the night review

Alex is one of the more despicable and unlikable characters of recent movies. It's bad enough that he plans to head to Syria and commit atrocities, but what makes it all the worse is that he doesn't even seem to understand the cause he's co-opted. He seems to have gotten into Islam the way middle class housewives get into salsa dancing, a touch of exoticism that he believes gives him a new depth. Equally ill-suited to a fundamentalist lifestyle is Lila, whose randy behaviour is far from befitting the future wife of an ISIS fighter. In a blackly comic moment that wouldn't be out of place in Chris Morris's Jihadist satire Four Lions, the pair debate over whether stealing Muriel's money will contravene their religion, coming to the convenient conclusion that it's fine, given how she's an infidel. The couple appear to have been indoctrinated by a third figure, Bilal (Stéphane Bak), who similarly plays fast and loose with the guidelines of their faith, checking himself into a plush hotel and puffing on cigarettes while he waits for them to raise the money.

READ MORE: IFI French Film Festival 2019 Review - Oh Mercy! ]

At times, Téchiné's attempts to contrast Alex and Lila's lifestyle with modern France are thuddingly on-the-nose, none more so than the cross cutting between the couple partaking in a solemn group prayer while a scantily clad teenage girl dances around to pop music during a dinner at Muriel's home.

farewell to the night review

The movie is ironically at its best when it keeps away from its young would-be jihadists and instead focusses on Muriel, with Deneuve delivering a quietly devastating performance as a woman whose heart is being shattered by the growing idea that she can't save her grandson. She develops a friendship with Fouad (Kamel Labroudi), a former Jihadist who now wears an electronic tag on his ankle, and whom she enlists in the hope that he can talk Alex out of leaving for Syria. Fouad can't provide any easy answers however, breaking the crushing news that for Alex, it's likely too late to talk him down from his high horse. As Muriel struggles to keep Alex in her grip, despite extreme attempts on her part, the film suggest that she may be losing one young man to extremism, but in Fouad is gaining a surrogate who has come through the other side.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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