Review: “Operation Portugal” is not a joke, it is a compliment to emigrants – but not a joke


Joaquim comes on board his Renault 5 from Ansiães. He’s a fat guy with long hair, a simple expression and a matching bushy mustache. In the car, the aromas of melons and sausages compete with the vibrations of the pillars around the air. “Baile de Verão” by José Malhoa sounds.

When he arrived in France, he was arrested by the police. In the patrol car he meets a doppelganger, Hakim, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin who is within reach of a mustache and a wig to pass Joaquim. (Almost) the entire comedy of “Operação Portugal”, the French production that hit Portuguese cinemas on August 12, is based on this absurd exchange.

At the head of the cast is D’Jal, a French comedian known for his talent for mimicking accents – including, of course, the Portuguese. Therefore, his popular imitations of Portuguese émigrés opened the doors for him to create an entire feature film based on the caricature he has perfected over the years.

Hakim (D’Jal) is a friendly neighborhood policeman with little ambition. The mother, controlling, eager and with too close a relationship with her son – after all, the sins of the caricatures and clichés do not only depend on Portuguese emigrants – tries to convince him to take a job at the post office.

Here comes an irrefutable proposition: to be the agent smuggled into an Interpol operation that suspects a Portuguese émigré family to be involved in the drug trade. Hakim is the stoned face of Joaquim, the cousin who comes from Portugal to complete a work, and is therefore the ideal candidate for an exchange.

The first time you hear Portuguese in the “Operação Portugal” is an embarrassing moment. The tropical rhythms are not deceiving and we are dealing with a Portuguese who is not ours, but Brazil’s – an exchange that was hopefully wanted. So that one sighs with relief when minutes later a rescuer fires “Oh malhão, malhão”.

“Operação Portugal” is the target of harsh criticism because it is based almost exclusively on the mockery of Portuguese emigrants and on the perpetuation of stereotypes. Portuguese is apparently a devouring larva of chorizo, sausages, and all the entrails that come from a pig; it is the builder who builds the houses of the rich; he is equally fanatical about Jesus Christ and Cristiano Ronaldo; and of course he owns a car with the symbol of the Portuguese Football Association.

Hakim’s conversion depends on Bruno Sanches, the Portuguese-French actor who is supposed to transform the policeman into a “real Portuguese” in just six days. Of course, the ritual of transformation took place between bottles of wine, Barcelos taps, Seleção scarves and ham.

Hakim imitation is usually enforced, except for fidelity of pronunciation, a familiar way of bending the tongue and spelling words – and it keeps making us smile, not least because it is the sign we all do and that enables us to discover a Portuguese in every corner of the world.

Imagine not knowing that António Guterres is Secretary General of the United Nations. It only took a few seconds to realize his nationality when he heard the unmistakable Portuguese accent of English. The same could be said of José Mourinho. It’s a simple, effective, and let’s face it, easy way to get used to a foreign language.

Hakim is absolutely brilliant at capturing those little Portuguese gestures. And in this case it can only be taken as a huge compliment, whether intentionally or not. I tend towards this last option, not least because the above portrait is anything but derogatory.

Many Portuguese emigrants rushed to express their anger on social media against the “stereotyped image” of the Portuguese community. But if we’re careful, we’ll find it’s just a cartoon – and like cartoons with exaggerated features, it’s not just looks that count.

The emigrant is portrayed as a relentless sausage eater, but also as a generous person who does not hesitate to offer his friends everything he has – after all, he is a sausage that saves Hakim. He is not portrayed as a soldier, but as an efficient, committed and capable worker. Hakim says that life among the Portuguese family has “made you happy”.

All in all, and if the exaggerations are forgiven, the result is positive. Unfortunately, there is no way to elegantly escape the FPF symbols engraved on cars.

This is by no means the cardinal sin of the “Operação Portugal” and for the most part of every comedy: the total inability to make the audience laugh. Unless they laughed out loud at the sketches of the “Malucos do Riso”.

“Operação Portugal” is not a film that should be canceled. It’s politically incorrect, it stirs up some stereotypes, like almost all Portuguese soap operas, which continue to like to fill prime time on national television.

The “Operação Portugal” is anything but a shame, it has good and friendly Portuguese, good food, good custard tarts and all the delicious things that make us what we are – worse, they have become Poles, reduced to the role of criminals. And it also has the ability to bring some good knitwear to the French, from mariza to xutos and pontapés. There is simply no comedy or salpicão to save him.

NiT degree: 50%