DIR: Carlos Agulló, Mandy Jacobson • WRI: Stephen Smith • PRO: Mandy Jacobson • DOP: Rita Noriega, Diego Ollivier • ED: Carlos Agulló • CAST: Winnie Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Neels Van Tonder
This documentary examines the fall of the apartheid regime, the release of Nelson Mandela and the vital role played by Jean-Yves Ollivier in both of those events. A very secretive figure, known as ‘Monsieur Jacques’ in correspondence at the time, Ollivier worked behind the scenes to manipulate events in a manner largely kept secret until now. Plot for Peace gathers numerous important figures from this landmark period in South African history, such as generals, heads of state, spies and indeed Ollivier himself, to explain the complex series of power-plays and allegiances that lay behind Mandela’s eventual release.
On the surface this is pretty standard documentary fair; archive material combined with talking-heads footage occasionally augmented with slightly more dynamic shots. However, the nature of the story Ollivier is telling and the snappy pace of the editing gives the whole film the feel of an almost Ocean’s 11-esque caper. Given the complete lack of any kind of dramatic reconstructions, achieving that tense and exciting mood of a caper is genuinely impressive. It helps immeasurably that the interviewees are very animated and frequently funny. The spokespeople from the American government are especially frank and entertaining as they essentially confirm everything we’ve always known about America’s foreign policy. Quickly cutting between these various personalities as they describe intense series of meetings and rising political tensions while we see the real footage of the conflicts proves almost more engaging than a lot of recent thrillers.
Ollivier himself is of course at the core of the film. A very talkative and charismatic figure, he’s also mysterious and even by the end you don’t feel like you’ve gotten anything more than a fleeting glimpse of who or what he is. His exact motives for intervening in the way he did remain equally ambiguous. He makes no secret of the fact that his interests were largely business-centric but as he describes the long and arduous series of events it is clear there’s a moral angle that he was on some level also pursuing. Even with this moral angle though, what he achieved remains frightening. As nothing more than a businessman with connections, that he managed to achieve such drastic changes almost seems to confirm all of our worst fears about how big-business is capable of trumping entire governments. It’s not a huge surprise, evidence of dealings similar to this aren’t exactly scarce but it’s nonetheless a little unnerving to see all of these officials and higher-ups discussing it with such casuals tones. It naturally raises the concern that, if Ollivier achieved all of this with good intentions, just how much has been achieved in the name of less noble endeavours?
As if to almost capitalise on this, the opening of the film is especially dramatic in its presentation of Ollivier. Featuring quick cuts between snippets of the interviewees speaking about Ollivier as a shadowy figure of immense influence, and shots of Ollivier from behind as he gets in and out of cars, travels around the world and just generally looks ominous; it gives the film an atmosphere of almost heightened reality. It actually makes you feel like you’re watching the prologue to an origin story of a film about a Bond villain or Professor Moriarty type figure. It’s a fun little quirk but odd to see and while it’s clear they were aiming to give Ollivier an air of ambiguity, which is retained throughout, they overshot it a little in this opening which is amusingly out of place tonally.
Nonetheless, this remains a fast-paced and fascinating look into a turbulent period in what is still reasonably recent history. Despite focusing largely on deception as a theme, there’s no real sense that the film is attempting to deceive its audience. The interviews are candid and relaxed while maintaining the film’s brisk, engaging pace and offering enough context to be accessible to even those with only a passing knowledge of the history. Ollivier is clearly a figure of great intrigue who could easily be the subject of several films in this mould and as an introduction to this man, whom the film would have you believe is somewhat of a spectre over recent history, it’s a very entertaining and enlightening one.
Plot for Peace is released on 14th March 2014