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Suggesting that the fall of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela can be tracked back to a sole commodities trader in France, Plot for Peace introduces viewers to a timeline of secret meetings and diplomacy so finely balanced one can hardly believe it all worked. The tale is surprising, and directors Carlos Aguilo and Mandy Jacobson blaze right through it — recounting ins and outs across an entire continent in ways that will challenge most viewers in the West. Mandela’s marquee value is the doc’s biggest selling point, but he’s not really a part of the story; though its value for history students is clear, commercial appeal isn’t.
Jean-Yves Ollivier, known to some as “Monsieur Jacques,” was born in Algeria and experienced that country’s civil war as a teenager. So when he visited South Africa as a businessman in 1981, he was primed to understand the unsustainability of a system in which a small number of insulated whites oppressed a vast black population. To hear him describe it, he ignored global sanctions and did business in the country in order to keep South Africans communicating with neighboring countries; in time, the entrepreneur became an advisor to Jacque Chirac on African affairs, and his history of making connections with those the world had shunned paid off.
Ollivier’s tale is told first-hand and corroborated by heads of state, spies, and American diplomat Chester Crocker — none of whom ever saw the whole picture of Ollivier’s operation as he was conducting it. The film describes a complex series of political trades that led to a dramatic 1987 prisoner swap on a tarmac in Mozambique; elsewhere, Monsieur Jacques helped negotiate the removal of South African and Cuban troops from Angola, initiating a “domino effect” of peace in the region.
The narrative is dauntingly dense and quick-moving for those lacking a working knowledge of 1980s geopolitics, but fine photography and lively interviewees help pull us through parts we mightn’t quite understand — conveying the sense that we’re meeting a kind of hero, even if the mechanics of his achievements don’t always sink in.
Production Company: Indelible Media
Directors: Carlos Aguilo, Mandy Jacobson
Screenwriter: Stephen Smith
Producer: Mandy Jacobson
Director of photography: Rita Noriega, Diego Olivier
Music: Antony Partos
Editor: Carlos Aguilo
No rating, 80 minutes
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