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Operation Libertad

Dir: Nicola Wadimoff.  Switzerland–France. 2012.  99mins

This small but watchable Swiss metacinematic comedy-tinged drama is Man Bites Dog meets the Baader Meinhof Complex. Set mostly in the late 1970s, the film tells the story of a Zurich bank raid and kidnapping carried out by a fictional revolutionary commando group. In a way, though, Operation Libertad feels more like Lukas Moodysson’s Together than either of those other namechecked films, in its mix of wry irony and nostalgia for an age when social and sexual politics, music and drugs were all part of the same heady mix. It’s essentially about the moment when a certain ideal of utopian social change began to curdle and turn sour.

Above all it’s the group dynamics of Operation Libertad that convince: the sense of a group forming, evolving and splitting under emotional strains and fissures, when they were trying so hard to keep everything clean and political.

Not an easy title for distributors to place, and lacking a name cast, this will not be the easiest of sells, but it should get an outing in French-speaking territories and may even leap the Francophone barrier to play in a handful of other territories with adventurous arthouse programmers.The film opens with what turns out to be a narrative framing sequence in which a middle-aged man called Hugues (Genet) is seen in a suburban Swiss house opening cardboard boxes that contain vintage revolutionary posters and some VHS tapes.

We learn, via his voiceover, that these tapes contain footage of a series of events that took place thirty years earlier, which Hugues himself captured on film. He’s finally got around to editing the tapes, and the rest of the film (with the exception of a mirroring present-day coda at the end) consists of this edited documentary.

A film student at an art school, Hugues is practicing with a video camera at a friend’s party when his attention is drawn by a group that simply seems cooler than the rest. They turn out to be a rather motley crew of revolutionaires who call themselves the G.A.R. Virginie (Koutchoumov), who has a touch of the Patti Smith about her, is the leader whose Achilles heel turns out to be her relationship with another group member, smack-addict German boyfriend Marko (Erceg). Guy (Capelluto) is the timid theorist of the group, Charlie (Guignard) its punkette loose cannon, while hefty Portuguese ex-soldier Baltos (Lopes) tries to play the Che but is not much more effective than the rest of the group when it comes to paramilitary organisation and discipline.

Hugues is surprised to find that they cautiously welcome his audiovisual interest – because they need his help to document a raid they plan to carry out, in which they will surprise a Paraguayan general as he is depositing corrupt millions into a Swiss bank.

The documentary premise is fairly well carried through: the camera never becomes an invisible eye, though just occasionally its charting of certain stand-offs or intimate scenes seems a little far-fetched as the group, now in hiding, deals with the unforeseen consequences of the raid. Music from the Stranglers, Basement 5 and others combines with authentic period sets, props and costumes, TV footage, and the grainy but by no means uncinematic look of Hugues’ supposed camerawork, to paint a convincing picture of the immediate post-punk era. But above all it’s the group dynamics of Operation Libertad that convince: the sense of a group forming, evolving and splitting under emotional strains and fissures, when they were trying so hard to keep everything clean and political.

Production companies: Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, Akka Films

International sales: Doc & Film International

Producers: Samir, Nicholas Wadimoff

Executive producers: Tunje Berns, Joelle Bertossa

Screenplay: Ufuk Emiroglu

Cinematography: Franck Rabel

Editors: Karine Sudan, Pauline Dairou

Production designer: Georg Bringolf

Website: www.operation-libertad.com

Main cast: Laurent Capelluto, Stipe Erceg, Natasha Koutchoumov, Karine Guignard, Nuno Lopes, Antonio Buil

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