Friday, June 22, 2012

J’Adore ’12: Operation Casablanca

Switzerland’s national police has plenty of experience with diplomats, but they are about to get a crash course in Islamist terrorists—not that there is much difference between the two.  Unfortunately, a bad case of mistaken identity puts an illegal economic immigrant on the run in Laurent Nègre’s light-hearted Opération Casablanca (trailer here), which screens today and tomorrow in Denver as a selection of J’Adore: Focus on French Language Cinema.

Saadi is a Moroccan passing for El Salvadoran passing for invisible.  When his restauranteur boss Michel sticks him in the cooler to avoid labor inspectors, the hard worker gamely complies.  However, when the sleazy employer pushes him too far, Saadi walks—straight into the kidnapping of UN Secretary General Takahata.  Being the profoundly wrong guy in the wrong place, Saadi is roughly interrogated by the Swiss authorities (better late than never, guys) and Takahata’s security specialist, Isako.  She would be the one in the Emma Peel wardrobe.

Maybe half believing Saadi’s innocence, the Swiss browbeat him into impersonating the real terrorist.  Right, what could go wrong with that plan?  Fortunately, Isako goes rogue to team up with the amateur infiltrator.  Actually, Saadi thinks fairly well on his feet for a put-upon schmuck, but he still has difficulty sussing out the evil scheme big league Hassan expects him to implement.

Casablanca definitely follows in the tradition of the OSS 117 franchise, but it is slightly less silly.  For a Swiss film featuring a lovable undocumented worker, it is also surprisingly forthright in its depiction of terrorism.  For Hassan and his cohorts, it is not about jobs or social welfare.  It’s all about Islam.

Tarik Bakhari has a likable screen charm and a nice, not too over the top flair for physical comedy.  The French-Cambodian Elodie Yung (due to become internationally geek famous when the mercifully postponed G. I. Joe sequel finally lurches into theaters) brings plenty of action cred and an intriguing presence to the film as Isako.  Veteran Swiss actor Jean-Luc Bideau sure hams it up though, as Michel.

Essentially, Casablanca aims to please, while presenting a portrait of a working class Muslim who rejects the violence of his extremist co-religionists.  Neither of those are bad goals.  There are also some relatively clever developments in Nègre’s script, as a small bonus.  Energetic and upbeat, Opération Casablanca should be a pleasant palate cleanser amongst the more serious fare at the Denver Film Society’s J’Adore series.  Handled internationally by The Yellow Affair, it is worth checking out when it screens this afternoon (6/22) and tomorrow night (6/23).