Switzerland sees red
by Emmanuel Cuénod
11/05/2012 - After several documentaries, filmmaker Nicolas Wadimoff is back with Operation Libertad [trailer, film focus], a fiction film about the destiny of young Swiss revolutionaries in the late 1970s. It was a risky move, but one that has paid off and brought the filmmaker to this year's Directors' Fortnight at the 65th Cannes Film Festival.
Nicolas Wadimoff says that his latest film is probably the "most revealing" about his artistic approach to filmmaking. It's difficult to disagree, because Operation Libertad so strongly seems to stem from the twenty years of filmmaking that preceded it. First stylistically: His new feature is a trompe l'oeil, a fiction nourished and brought up on the fresh air of documentaries. With this genre, the filmmaker has returned, after his furious but not entirely successful Clandestins and Mondialito, to the "state of urgency", the rallying cry of the alternative Swiss milieus to which he belonged for a long time. In Operation Libertad, Wadimoff comes full circle with a fake documentary about an independent revolutionary group planning a coup in the verdigris universe of late 1970s Switzerland.
For Operation Libertad, the fiction director -- and imaginary editor of the final product -- has chosen a shoulder camera. The result is a film pertaining to both yesterday and today that follows a personal and political logic immediately recognisable to anybody who knows Wadimoff's work. Except that, after a quarter lifetime of filmmaking, the director now trusts human dimensions more than ideological motivations to tell the story of his aspiring revolutionaries. While the kidnapping of a lieutenant-colonel, a Paraguayan bastard carrying the money of a failing dictatorship, constitutes the film's high point in terms of tension and "entertainment", it's what happens before and afterwards that gives Operation Libertad its force of impact. This strength is born of the brutal collision between an inert government whose most terrifying weapon is its apparent lack of reaction - the critique here is spot-on - and the crazy, potentially self-destructive, energy of rebels who are no doubt more suited to loving themselves than to waging war against international capitalism. Wadimoff's heroes are handsome and tragic, but they are also naive, boastful, and at times cowardly - which is ultimately what makes them so endearing.
Finding the right actors was a tricky task, as the film's success lies in the exact amount of passion in someone's expression, in the actors' ability to fully recreate the characters' convictions and rage for life. But Wadimoff successfully rises to the challenge. Very rarely has a Swiss film been so convincing on the sole basis of its cast. Special mentions go out to Natacha Koutchoumov, whose withdrawn, secretly concerned performance literally supports the action, and to Karine Guignard for her contrasting, repeatedly explosive performance. The latter is a rapper known as La Gale, but here she proves that she is also an exceptional actress, just as capable of standing up to Béatrice Dalle (the series De l'encre on Canal+) as she is of becoming a punk activist from this, decidedly, very strange country that is Switzerland.