An absorbing, deftly-told tale which succeeds by virtue of the wit and charm of its main narrator, “Operation Algeciras” focuses on an obscure military operation which could, pic claims, have altered the course of the 1982 Falklands (aka Malvinas) conflict. Though there are moments of obvious padding in a yarn about an event which is in reality little more than a minor footnote, docu weaves enough intrigue and dark humor from the material to justify sidebar fest appearances and tube pickups.
Opening minutes provide the background on the conflict from an Argentine perspective. Then Juan Luis Gallardo, who penned a book on the subject, reveals that at the start of hostilities a clandestine operation was set up, hatched by Argentine admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya, to blow up any British ship docked in Gibraltar.
A team of four saboteurs, led by diver and explosives expert Maximo Nicoletti — a former member of a Peronist left-wing guerrilla group who had ironically been arrested in Argentina for blowing up a ship in 1977 — was dispatched to Spain’s southern coast to wait for their opportunity to make history.
Pic features testimony from the somewhat chilling Anaya and Brit historians Nigel West and Nicholas Tozer. (There is none from either British or Spanish government reps.) But the real star is the picaresque Nicoletti, who tells his exciting and obviously well-rehearsed tale with a born storyteller’s skill. His efforts to recall the false name he used are hilarious.
Though the voiceover puts the political situation in Argentina, the U.K. and Spain somewhat into context, this is basically human interest fare. Parts of the story are frankly incredible, providing an insight into the tragi-comically haphazard nature of so-called political “operations.”
When interrogated as to why they were leaving Argentina — literally the only people to know about the operation were Anaya and the saboteurs — they claimed they were going on a photography trip, and the fact that they had no cameras with them didn’t prevent their exit.
Research is rock solid. Treatment is straightforward, using little more than headshots, film and TV footage, and shots of the multiple locations mentioned. Only false note is struck by the self-important tone of the voiceover.
Two of the four saboteurs are now dead. The identity of the other, apart from Nicoletti, is unknown, but he is believed to be alive and working in New York.