A shadowy figure with a habit of making deals to line his own pockets inserts himself into global politics, helping to end wars and topple South Africa’s apartheid system.
It sounds like the premise to a television show like, say, The Blacklist, but the documentary Plot for Peace reveals how real that kind of intrigue can be. French commodity trader Jean-Yves Ollivier in the mid 1980s had the francs and the chutzpah to leverage his business acumen and high-level African contacts to meddle in the Cold War–fueled conflict in Angola and, ultimately, in South Africa’s bleak politics. Ollivier is a delightful character, and it’s nice that this is a documentary — he’d be played in a Hollywood thriller by some handsome rogue.
But he’s a bespectacled, droll, porcine specimen, with the godlike level of self-esteem often possessed by über-rich self-made men. In the end, the French businessman’s forte is logistics, so directors Carlos Agulló and Mandy Jacobson’s choice to tell this story without any clarifying narration means things can get a little head-spinning, with many details, details, details to keep track of. Ollivier, after all, transacts diplomacies — prisoner swaps, handshakes, and, above all, meetings — that require trust, not arms.
The film’s editing is masterful, though, and with ample footage from the time and up-to-date storytelling from many key players from the African, Cuban, and U.S. governments, among others, Plot for Peace proves enthralling.