“Operation Portugal”: “It was not done to make fun of the Portuguese”

Opened in theaters on August 12th, Operação Portugal is a French comedy with a heavy focus on the local Portuguese community. Directed by Frank Cimière, D’Jal plays, a French humorist who is known, among other things, for imitating the accent of the Portuguese living in France and drawing sketches according to this profile.

In this film, D’Jal plays Hakim, a French policeman of Moroccan origin who infiltrates the Portuguese community to investigate the cocaine trade related to the construction sector.

In just three days, Hakim has to pass as a Portuguese, although he encounters several obstacles along the way – most notably his bad luck and general confusion. In between you will discover not just a community, but a family, as can be read in the project summary.

Despite being a comedy, the film has been heavily criticized on social media by viewers for pointing out how the Portuguese-French people have been characterized and stereotyped. This thesis has also come under fire. The magazine “Télérama”, for example, describes the film as “a collection of stereotypes about the Franco-Portuguese community”.

NiT interviewed Carmen Santos, 75, the only Portuguese resident actress with an established career here to participate in this production.

How did the invitation come about? Considering that she is the only Portuguese actress who lives and works at least in the country that participates in the “Operação Portugal”.
If I’m to tell you, I don’t know how you came to me. This is extraordinary, but I actually don’t know, it happened through my agency. And finally, I developed a good relationship with the director – I even intervened in another film he was making. The film was shot entirely in France, I was there three times – once for almost two weeks.

What character do you play in this film?
I play a Portuguese character, grandmother Lena. All the Portuguese who were there were emigrants from a long time ago [ou descendentes]. Even though she says no that she can’t speak French, it’s a lie, this grandmother totally understands and everyone knows it. It’s a grandmother that serves to add more color to this drawing pad. There is a Portuguese block, a French block, an Arabic – Moroccan – and a single Polish character. And this grandmother is the bad-tempered one who doesn’t want her granddaughter to get involved with other nationalities.

Did you have to prepare specifically for the role?
Not exactly, because she is Portuguese, Portuguese, Portuguese. It’s a little bit worse than me [risos]but it wasn’t a very complicated thing. It’s not a movie … The characters don’t have to be too deep, it’s an adventure thing, it’s not a psychological movie. It doesn’t even pretend to be.

Carmen Santos at left with her granddaughter, played by actress Sarah Perles

How were the recordings?
It was like three weeks, not in a row. Everything went well, there were people of different origins and nationalities, but everyone spoke more or less French. And it was a very lively environment with good relationships.

Did you feel fit given the fact that you were the only actress from Portugal?
I didn’t even think of it. It was only after a while that I started doing math and realized that I’m the only Portuguese and don’t even know how I got there [risos]. The Portuguese-French were emigrants, but they had settled in very well in their reality, in their life in France. I think these are people who don’t even think about moving. They undoubtedly think a lot about coming to Portugal which is very fun and they were looking forward to the film opening in Portugal. But for the rest they are there, they are already there. Many went there as children and entered French life with great success.

This comedy plays a lot with the stereotype of the Portuguese expatriate and there has been a lot of criticism from viewers on social media and even in the specialized press who thought it was too stereotypical, with the typical stereotypes against the community. Did Carmen feel that? Or do you find the healthy satire?
As I said, there were several sectors of nationality. And they are all the subject of jokes. The Portuguese, of course, because the romantic protagonist is Portuguese – the actress happens to be Spanish [risos] – who is my granddaughter. But there are always situations when it is the French who make you laugh, with the police and the manager of the area they are in … none of them escape. You play with the French, with the Portuguese, and this Portuguese is paired with D’Jal, the comedian.

Did you enjoy working with him?
He’s very funny, I really enjoyed getting to know him. It’s a lot of fun behind the camera. But when I first read this I was amazed that the film wasn’t funny because it’s fun with the Portuguese. I mean, don’t enjoy … We have a lot of things here about the Portuguese enjoying themselves and they don’t comment on it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s all in a wave of great fun. If you couldn’t even take it, could you? If that’s all I might be a little suspicious, right? Look how annoyed I was. It’s the vocabulary of this film. If you ask me if you’re going to win an Oscar, maybe you won’t …

But he believes it isn’t exclusive to Portuguese characters and that it even includes all of the people who appear in the film.
It wasn’t made to make fun of the Portuguese. There are many sectors that eat the same thing: the protagonist’s mother, a Moroccan character, and the things she does sit on the floor, completely laughing … they completely go overboard. I don’t think it’s making fun of anyone. It was a really fun movie, the director is a lot of fun, with a constant laugh. People can be sensitive to one thing or the other … but not to me, I think it’s so absurd, so out of the picture, that I don’t even have time to think about it, it’s one joke after the other, one Lots of confusion and glitches on all sides.

What was your favorite scene to shoot?
There was one at the end where this grandmother turns on the protagonist who tries to settle in Portuguese but can’t, he’s Muslim and has some things – he eats and such – that he tries to hide, but those Grandmother is suspicious of the start and she doesn’t want her granddaughter to join in on something so different. It’s an angry scene with him, it was fun, it was stronger.

But was it a good experience?
Of course it was. Those things, unless they openly have some weird ideology, and I don’t think there was much ideology here … they’re supposed to be fun and not offensive. It can’t. Sometimes there are things in real life that we see on TV that are much worse …

Also read NiT’s review of “Operation Portugal” – our reporter didn’t like the film, but saw it as a compliment to the Portuguese rather than an insult.

Click the gallery to learn more about some of the top films premiering by the end of the year.

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