Operation Libertad: Cannes Review

Leftist militant docu-drama fails to meet its demands.

Swiss director Nicolas Wadimoff's doc-drama focuses on the kidnapping exploits of a militant faction in Zurich.

The revolution is rather clumsily televised in Operation Libertad, an unconvincing mash-up of found footage filmmaking and 70s leftist nostalgia from Swiss documentarian Nicolas Wadimoff. Chronicling the botched kidnapping exploits of a militant faction in Zurich, this rather generic period drama takes a good concept to mostly predictable places, and should capture only scattered Euro art houses after premiering in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.

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A brief introductory sequence shows an unidentified man opening up boxes filled with Marxist paraphernalia and then pulling out a few dusty VHS tapes, at which point a voiceover announces: “We were 20-years-old, and we were dreamers…” From there, we cut to what’s supposed to be vintage video footage from the narrator’s youth, though the sharp quality of the imagery is obviously HD-grade (made to look older with what appears to be some sort of Final Cut effects tool).

Technical issues aside, the story soon takes a route very similar to the recent batch of lefty period pieces (Carlos, Good Morning, Night, The Baader Meinhof Complex) when our cameraman is introduced to a gang of Marxist revolutionaries who call themselves the GAR (Groupe Armee Revolutionnaire), and who are about to set off on their biggest coup yet: taking a Chilean agent (Antonio Buil) hostage at a Swiss bank, in the hopes that he’ll confess to the illicit ties between the Pinochet dictatorship and the local financial industry.

As one can imagine, things don’t exactly go according to plan, and the band starts to unravel as each member lets their major character flaw get the better of them: Guy (Laurent Capelluto) is too much of a milquetoast intellectual to take charge, while the German loose cannon Marko (Stipe Ergec) is too much of a heroin addict to do anything useful. Meanwhile, the latter’s pensive girlfriend, Virginie (Natache Koutchoumov) allows punk rebel Charlie (Karine Guignard) to hone in on her man, much to the chagrin of Portuguese émigré Baltos (Nuno Lopes), who sports a beard like Castro but has a hard time ruling with an iron fist.

With no veritable hero besides the nearly unseen cameraman (identified as “Hughes”), and with the members of the bunch all rather dislikeable for different reasons, it’s hard to invest oneself in the narrative, which, as matters go from bad to worse, begins to feel more like a group therapy session than a veritable portrait of a bygone era.

As for the film’s politics, Wadimoff clearly seems to be denouncing the frivolous and ill-prepared antics of the militants, yet wants us to regard them as innocent idealists because, “One can’t live without dreams.”Such a discourse winds up underserving what’s actually a complex and intriguing epoch in modern European history, and it’s unfortunate that Operation Libertad ultimately remains on the surface of events which, however fictionalized, deserve more depth than the film provides.

Performances are lively though not always credible, and the multinational cast seems to be pantomiming revolutionary antics rather than living the roles for real. Punk rock soundtrack includes tracks by Richard Hell and The Stranglers.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Production companies: Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, Akka Films
Cast: Laurent Capelluto, Stipe Erceg, Karine Guignard, Natacha Koutchoumov, Nuno Lopes, Antonio Buil
Director: Nicolas Wadimoff
Screenwriter: Nicolas Wadimoff, Jacob Berger
Producers: Samir, Nicolas Wadimoff
Executive producers: Tunje Berns, Joelle Bertossa
Director of photography: Franck Rabel
Production designer: Georg Bringolf
Costume designer: Cidalla Da Costa
Editors: Karine Sudan, Pauline Dairou
Sales Agent: Doc & Film International
No rating, 92 minutes.