Saturday, March 03, 2018

70's Bonanza: Operation Ogre

In the latter half of the twentieth century, cinema's attraction to the heroic romanticism and ultimate fatalism of the Wild West outlaw shifted onto the righteous terrorist. Just as committed to their brand of outlaw justice as Billy the Kid, the terrorist also served as the perfect (for better or worse) embodiment of the every-man's indignant right to fight "the man". So, it's no surprise that far left-wing filmmakers like Gillo Pontecorvo (who ascended to international acclaim after his 1966 film "The Battle of Algiers") would make such a film like "Operation Ogre" in which the sole burden of empathy and attention is given to a set of terrorists who meticulously planned and attacked Spanish Prime Minister Luis Blanco in 1973. In fact, their bomb was so potent that it sent the Prime Minister's car up in the air far enough to land on a building the next street over. The fact that "Operation Ogre" isn't just a radicalized political statement or transparent attempt to memorialize such men and women is a feat Pontecorvo pulls off brilliantly. In fact, I'd dare call "Operation Ogre" his best film, even better than "The Battle of Algiers" or the cultish "Burn!" starring Marlon Brando. More of a procedural thriller with some stunning shifts of time than anything else, its such a sad fact this film is rarely available on any home video format.

Starring the always fascinating Gian Marie Volonte as the leader of the Basque revolutionary group who travel to Madrid to assassinate Blanco, the name of the film is derived from the military operation assigned the mission. Of course, nothing goes as planned. Just when the group thinks they have their plan figured out, Blanco is promoted to Prime Minister, which not only alters his daily schedule but includes an influx of new bodyguards. Patiently following Volonte and his group as they audible their own plans, the film soon settles on their doom's-day-ticking-clock attempts to bury a bomb beneath one of the PM's main routes to and from church everyday.

Outside of their tense main mission, Pontecorvo throws in a couple of emotional curveballs, such as the relationship between of one of the terrorists and his wife, including one jarring narrative slip that jumps ahead in time to reveal the diminishing rewards of their violent actions and its repercussions on those who surround them. If nothing else, Pontecorvo routinely understands that the revolutionary life isn't without its mortal sacrifices.

Based on a novel by Julien Aguirre and released just 6 years after the assassination, "Operation Ogre" would be the last feature film directed by Pontecorvo before consuming himself in documentary work. It's a fitting piece. For someone who began his career championing the suspect rule of governments and the violent insurrection possible by its citizens, "Operation Ogre" reveals that his passion for violent change was unwavering.

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