Plot for Peace

In brief, Carlos Agulló and Mandy Jacobson’s documentary amounts to a whole movie’s worth of one guy taking credit for freeing Nelson Mandela and ending apartheid. Well, okay, it’s not quite so simple, and that’s why it takes the guy an hour and a half to tell his story. In 1981, French businessman Jean-Yves Ollivier, a commodities trader with a keen eye for emerging markets, saw an opportunity in South Africa, but also a disaster waiting to happen — indeed, already happening. (Having been born in Algeria to middle-class French parents, Ollivier knew what he was looking at.) Soon a Cold War flare-up in nearby Angola afforded him a unique multipart networking opportunity involving prisoner exchanges, suitcases full of diamonds, and, oh you know, steering the ship of world history. It’s a story full of fascinating stuff, but the directors get a little too caught up in thriller trappings to fully sort it out. Straining for something like a mashup of Argo, several John le Carré novels, and one of those highly shareable explainer pieces in an online news magazine, they introduce Ollivier, alias “Monsieur Jacques,” as a stout and shadowy figure — smoking a stogie, fondling a deck of cards, and talking philosophically about playing the hand you’re dealt. That would suggest poker, so it seems also worth mentioning that he appears to be playing solitaire. Anyway, it’s a relief when harrowing footage of terrible apartheid-era violence finally relents to rousing footage of people cheering in the streets upon Mandela’s release. Alors, nous ne comprenons pas, mais…uh…merci, Monsieur Jacques!