There are any number of great ready-made stories in Portuguese history to be made into a film, and that of Portuguese general Humberto Delgado, who stood up against dictator Oliveira Salazar's regime and ran for president in 1958 knowing full well he would never be allowed to win, is one of them. Director Bruno de Almeida chose, for his third fiction feature, to tell the end of that story: general Delgado's death at the hands of the regime's political police in a Spanish clearing in 1965, and, after the 1974 revolution, the revelation of its perpetrators and their trial. And he tells it in a breathless, fast-moving narrative telescoping almost 15 years (up until the trial's conclusion in the early 1980s) of history in 90 minutes, veering between a 1960s European thriller and a courtroom drama with obvious influences of American genre and B-movies. The connecting thread is a sort of "procedural" cops-and-robbers style, following the preparation and carrying out of the "hit" on general Delgado.

     But that low-budget 1960s feel, down to the desaturated colours and evocative, moody score - works as much in favour of Operação Outono (Operation Autumn, the codename for the murder of Delgado) as it works against it: it prevents the film of ever alighting long enough on one genre, unhelped by the briskness with which everything happens and the sprawling cast that, for the most part, is given remarkably little to do. The Sopranos' John Ventimiglia is a dead ringer for general Delgado, but he is mostly a supporting role, unhelped by his abysmal dubbing into Portuguese; Carlos Santos is spot-on as the vicious police inspector in charge of the operation, with Nuno Lopes his usual solid self as the younger agent under his command and Manoel de Oliveira regular Diogo Dória an adequately oily presence as an informer with one great soliloquy. Everyone else is given short shrift and virtually no time to actually register, the presences of the name actors in the cast pulling the viewer out of the action and throwing away the film's genre playfulness and visual agility. While an interesting project and Mr. de Almeida's most coherent and cohesive fiction so far, Operação Outono is a likable but half-baked effort.

Cast: John Ventimiglia, Carlos Santos, Marcello Urgeghe, Nuno Lopes, Pedro Efe, Diogo Dória, José Nascimento, Adriano Carvalho, Camané, Ana Padrão, João d'Ávila, Carlos Paulo, Júlio Cardoso, Tiago Rodrigues, Luís Lima Barreto, Felipe Vélez

Director: Bruno de Almeida
Screenplay: Mr. de Almeida, Frederico Delgado Rosa, John Frey, from the book by Mr. Delgado Rosa, Humberto Delgado - Biografia do General sem Medo
Cinematography: Edmundo Díaz (colour, processing by Light Film)
Music: Dead Combo
Art director: Zé Branco
Costumes: Lucha d'Orey
Editor: Roberto Perpignani
Producer: Paulo Branco (Alfama Films Production Portugal)
Portugal, 2012, 93 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia Monumental 4 (Lisbon), November 7th 2012


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