×

Operation E

Miguel Courtois Paternina's third political thriller after "Wolf" and "GAL," "Operation E" reps his best.

With:
With: Luis Tosar, Martina Garcia, Gilberto Ramirez, Humberto Rivera, Sigifredo Vega.

Miguel Courtois Paternina’s third political thriller after “Wolf” and “GAL,” “Operation E” reps his best. Rolling the human and the political into an absorbing whole, this grubbily authentic item about an ordinary Joe out of his depth in the hazardous world of Latin American politics is based on surreal real-life events to which it’s basically faithful, but without sacrificing twists and turns. A fine central perf from Luis Tosar goes some way toward balancing the pic’s flaws. Made for the mainstream, “Operation” should perform best in Spanish-speaking territories.

“I went into the Colombian jungle to find wealth,” explains Crisanto (a feral-looking Tosar), “but instead I found only hunger.” In 2005, living in a riverside hovel he shares with his wife, Liliana (thesp-model Martina Garcia); her faith-healer father, Don Ramoncito (Gilberto Ramirez); and a couple of kids too many, the family ekes out a living growing coca. Santos has struck up an uneasy relationship with the Farc, the military/political organization that controls large swathes of the Colombian countryside.

The Farc brings a sickly baby to Crisanto, with instructions to look after it until they return, at the same time prohibiting him from leaving the area. When it seems the baby has died, Don Ramoncito revives it using a lit cigar. Crisanto decides they must get the child to safety, and the family escapes downriver to the nearest town, where social services decide the cigar burn is a sign of abuse and take the kid away.

Unable to return home for fear of reprisals, Crisantos takes up work in the city as a laborer and caricature artist until the Farc locates him and returns him to the jungle. Tortured by military leader Mono Jojoy (Humberto Rivera), Crisantos is given three days to recover the child (called Emmanuel, hence the pic’s title).

Antonio Onetti’s script never forgets that its job is to focus tightly on generating suspense without becoming bogged down in the complexities of the region’s politics: What political tubthumping there is sounds like so much empty rhetoric. Both the Farc and the government are presented as amoral, violent and blind to the consequences of their actions, as embodied by the hapless protag and his often absurd life.

The breakneck pace is determined by Crisanto’s frenzied attempts to keep his family safe, and given that he already lives under the threat of poverty even before the Farc gets involved, he comes across as an interesting fusion of absolute wretchedness and animal nobility.

Much of the time, Crisanto is running around either escaping or pursuing, and the dependable Tosar (here revisiting Latin American politics after “Even the Rain”) does well to communicate the fullness of his character in such a breathless role, and even pulls off the Colombian accent required. That said, the fact that he represents the film’s sole dramatic focus inevitably mitigates the viewer’s interest during the last half-hour.

Apart from a slimily avuncular perf from Sigifredo Vega as Crisanto’s only useful contact, other roles are stereotyped. Most damaging in this regard is Garcia as Liliana; a well-known face locally whose participation will generate interest in Colombia, Garcia is virtually silent apart from voicing the odd complaint, and there’s practically no chemistry between her and Tosar.

Settings, whether in the jungle or cities, are often lensed handheld, adding to the general sense of urgency, though time is made for some wonderful landscapes of morning mist over mountains. Thierry Westermeyer’s gentle, guitar-based score provides a welcome, tranquil counterpoint.

Popular on Variety

Operation E

Spain-France

Production: A DeA Planeta (in Spain) release of a Tormenta Films, Zircozine, Ajoz Films production with the participation of TVE, Canal Plus. (International sales: DeA Planeta, Madrid.) Produced by, Marisa Castelo, Farruco Castroroman, Luis Tosar, Ariel Zeitoun. Executive producer, Cristina Zumarraga. Co-executive producer, Juan Pablo Tamayo. Directed by Miguel Courtois Paternina. Screenplay, Antonio Onetti.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Josu Inchaustegui; editor, Jean-Paul Husson; music, Thierry Westermeyer; art director, Gonzalo Martinez; sound (Dolby Digital), Cesar Salazar; supervising sound editor, Gabriel Gutierrez; re-recording mixer, Christian Fontaine; assistant director, Emiliano Torres. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi Specials), Sept. 23, 2012. Running time: 104 MIN.

With: With: Luis Tosar, Martina Garcia, Gilberto Ramirez, Humberto Rivera, Sigifredo Vega.

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content