The illusive figure of Monsieur Jacques, sat in his Parisian apartment discussing his role in bringing an amicable end to the racist and oppressive regime that was South Africa’s Apartheid, creates an air of intrigue and incredulity.
The film instantly makes the audience demand to know who this precocious Frenchman thinks he is (how the hell can one man bring about such seismic change in the lives of millions?!), and just what exactly did this rotund, bespectacled businessman/ bureaucrat/ headmaster get up to in those dark days of South Africa’s past – the 1970s and 80s?
As the documentary’s omniscient narrator, our protagonist – real name Jean-Yves Ollivier – guides the audience step-by-step through each and every twist and turn of this extraordinary account of the behind-the-scenes deals that were being made on all sides, along the road to South African liberation. Armed with nothing but his word, M. Jacques set about creating an open dialogue through him to bring about change. What is remarkable, is his continued anonymity – even within the highest ranks of the (current) South African political elite: not even former President Thabo Mbeki was able to identify or place this shady backroom operator in the Struggle.
The story recounted is fascinating, simply put. It is a tale of the courage of one’s conviction, but it is also a tale of one man’s desire to leave a lasting legacy (I’ve heard of’ go big or go home’, but this is on another level entirely); Jean-Yves is without a family, and appears to have devoted his life to his reputation as a businessman.
As an entertainment piece however, Plot can pose as a demanding struggle. If the audience is interested by the history of South Africa, the concept of nation-building, the narrative of the individual’s struggle for (and against) the many, then this is your type of documentary. If however, the audience adheres to my flatmate’s sentiments of pub-over-politics, hooters-over-history and so on, then you might find yourself struggling to engage with this film.
But I don’t care. I loved it – and I hope that there are more Monsieur Jacques-s out there.
One Man’s Legacy: a Plot for Peace is available on DVD now