Sunday, 16 November 2014
One day, peaceful people of a small, idylic village of Matyora, situated on an island with the same name, are informed by the authorities that every one of them must leave the place because the whole area will be flooded in order to build a hydroeletric power plant. The authorities slowly implement the expulsion, while a very tall tree seems to be impossible to uproot. One old grandmother is particularly sad that she has to leave the place she lived in all her life, and the graves of her ancestors. When all the animals are deported, she spends the last night in her home before the authorities put it on fire. The island is flooded, but one inhabitant starts screaming "Matyora!" while passing in a ship on the flooded area.
Elem Klimov's 4th and penultimate film, "Farewell" is a slow and heavy, but very ambitious drama that works on several layers. For one, the most obvious theme is the ecology, the toll caused by the ever increasing technology that threatens to swallow the last idyllic places of nature, as well as the contemplation about people who live in harmony and respect with nature - embodied by the grandmother to whom the island has an almost religious importance - and the new generation that finds more satisfaction in machines and virtual reality than true reality, whom they don't care about anymore. This is embodied in the giant, tall tree that serves as the spirit of the island and defies the efforts of the cold authorities to remove it - they try to chop it, but the chainsaw breaks; they try to tip it, but the bulldozer stops when it crashes into it. However, there seems to be a more subtle theme in here, as well, a one that went right over the heads of the viewers, namely that the story is actually an allegoric catharsis caused by one specific subconscious guilt - the Soviet deportations. The parallels seem very palpable when one has this in mind: people are informed by the authorities that they must collectively leave their homeland, to go into the unknown, and the scenes corroborate this notion (the cattle collected on a ship to be shipped away; the grandmother who spends the last night at her home; authorities who burn all the houses, almost as if to "wipe" out every traces of the existence of this nation). This seems almost identical with what Estonians, Lithuanians or Chechens had to endure. "Farewell" suffers from too much empty walk and overstretched moments, yet Klimov never tests the patience of the viewers as much as let's say Tarkovsky. Maybe the characters could have been better developed, as well, but the overall story works even without that.