By John A. Riley

The central conceit of this film is that a respectable, middle-aged family man was, in his youth, involved with a revolutionary organisation. He acted as their cameraman, documenting their activities. In the present day, he edits the 1970s footage into a coherent narrative, which forms the film we see.

The group form a daring plan: kidnapping a financier and forcing him to confess on-camera to his company’s ties with the Pinochet regime in Chile. The plan falters and our revolutionaries find themselves in an increasingly tense situation.

Operation Libertad works well as a thriller, but it cops out on formal issues. The cutting and camerawork are just too smooth, the narrative too coherent, for this to be taken as verite footage, compared to say, the recent mock-documentary Troll Hunter. Further, little effort has been made to make the footage itself look like late 1970s video (an acquaintance of the present commentator copied his footage back and forth constantly using two machines, sending it through a standards conversion process, in order to gain the look of an early 80s video nasty). To make matters worse, a rather patronising, expository voice over has been added, ostensibly by the cameraman in the present day.

Through its protagonist/cameraman, the film raises questions about the distinction between being a reporter, a witness and a participant, but these have been dealt with more subtly, or with more urgency, elsewhere. The moment where the revolutionaries discuss how the cameraman won’t need to be there for the kidnapping, just the confession, is telling of the way details of production are often elided to produce a smooth end result or digestible message.

The final sequence consists of one of the beautiful female gang members dancing to The Strangler’s song «no more heroes», if this is meant to be a lyrical evocation of prelapsarian innocence, it’s merely irritating, a cargo-cult imitation of a poignant afterword.

Some of the bungled attempts at revolution recall the hapless terrorists in Four Lions. But whereas that film documents underclass resentment and gullibility leading to outbursts of violence, here there’s little analysis or provocation. Through our protagonist’s teenage daughter (who, we discover through the voiceover, calls her father a conformist parasite) we’re forced to think of present-day unrest and protest movements. But to help make sense of the chaos and conflict in contemporary Europe and beyond, a more formally and thematically uncompromising film is needed.

Director: Nicolas Wadimoff
Producers: Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, Akka Films
Screenwriters: Nicolas Wadimoff, Jacob Berger
Cinematographer: Franck Rabel
Cast: Laurent Capelluto, Stipe Erceg, Karine Guignard, Natacha Koutchoumov, Nuno Lopes, Antonio Buil
Country: Switzerland/France
Year: 2012
92 mins