Nada - Anarchy as Alternative Reality

2009 June 25
by Zachary McCune
This SimpleViewer gallery requires Macromedia Flash. Please open this post in your browser or get Macromedia Flash here.
This is a WPSimpleViewerGallery

Nada begins with a poetic invocation that translates roughly as follows:

This adventure is the fruition of the imagination, it is therefore not unimaginable

This invocation is meant to characterize the drama of the film, and it does. Taking place in something like an alternative reality (recognizably our own time and space, yet involving an unlikely event) Nada ponders a political situation through a hypothetical premise. It is an academic, particularly philosophical game, beginning “imagine if…” and ending once the political ballet has gone through its motions, arriving at a conclusion that seemed unlikely at the onset. In this way, Chabrol’s film is something of a trial. On one side is the State, and on the other, revolutionaries/anarchists. Between them is human existence, and the question of how human life should be governed.

The Characters

Chabrol takes a great deal of time setting up and developing Nada’s characters. First, there is Andre Epaulard, the aging revolutionary back in Paris after years abroad. He is met by d’Abrey, a young, foolish drunk who lacks tact and abruptedly asks Andre to assist in the abductiong of the US Ambassador. Refusing, Epaulard shows himself to be somewhat tired of “the fight” and perhaps finally squaring himself to life within the status quo.

The next character is Treuffais, a Professor of Philosophy, who is introduced finishing a lecture with little interest from his pupils. His abstruse philosophy seems to be over the heads of all save himself, and he doesn’t seem to mind listening to himself speak. But after leaving the school house, we see the Professor’s brash side, as he threatens a fellow driver on the road when his 2CV craps out.

Buenaventura Diaz is our ultimate protagonist, and so Chabrol takes his time getting to him. An angsty, handsome young man, “Buen” appears to be a teenage hearthrob gone anarachist. He dresses like Malcolm McDowell in “If….” or the Invisible Man. He keeps his wallet down by his crotch, suggestively removing it when hassled by a police officer. He smokes his cigarettes slowly and deliberately. Most importantly he is forcefully commited to the mission, even attacking Andre to attempt to convince him to join the cause. When he realizes that the two are in fact old friends, all is forgotten and Andre joins up (although not before a potent considered-suicide:: see photos above).

Going over the plan, Buen takes Andre out to the home in the country that will be used to hold the US Ambassador. There Andre meets “Cash” a sexy young lady also commited to the cause but contributing her home rather than her time. Andre initially reacts poorly to Cash, but the flare is there for romance later in the film.

The Events

Like an American heist film, the revolutionaries (a.k.a the Nada group) plan out an abduction of the US Ambassador at a moment of little possible protection- his weekly hour in a high class brothel. But after stealing guns, Treuffais and Buen have a falling out, with Treuffais suddenly losing confidence in the practicality of radical terrorism and Buen accusing him of “Political Clap,” an indictment of the Professor’s mind over matter/inability to commit to realizing the ideas he espouses. Undettered, the plan goes on, flowing well as the Ambassador is abducted, and all threats to the mission seemingly neutralized. Only a secret film recording of the actions undoes Nada as a by-any-means-necessary Police Chief tracks them down, and massacres them.

Buen, Prophet or Propaganda?

Buen is the glue of the film, binding it together and making its plot stickier. He is easy to like, and hard to write off, he cares about his cause and his friends, believing so blindly in Nada’s mission that he sacrifices himself by running and screaming through an open field to warn his comrades of the police attack. For this, Buen takes the first bullet of the cause, spilling the first blood, and establishing his primacy as Nada’s chief member. It is Buen who kills the Ambassador, realizing the futility of surrender. It is Buen who escapes the massacre. It is Buen who rescues Treuffais from the sadistic Police Chief, sacrificing himself to set the Professor free.

Buen also gets to make a clear political message like no other character in the film. Under the premise of speaking to a recording, Buen reflects on the practicality of revolutionary terror. Like Treuffais he concludes that “terrorism and the state are two pincers of the same idiot trap,” and recognizing this connection, he recognizes the futility of Nada’s violence. Speaking directly to the camera, this scene has a frankness that is hard to shake. It’s directness suggests that it is the message of the film, and that it represents the political statement Chabrol wants to make with the film.

Buen’s decision to rescue the very man he accussed of being too politically philosophical suggests Buen’s redemption. When Buen hands the keys to Treuffais as he dies, it is a highly symbolic act representing the revolutionary passing a torch of social obligation back to the Intellectuals. Before this, Buen and Treuffais had represented a classic oppositional binary: the academic who thinks but does not act, and the revolutionary who acts but does not think. Their handshake with eyes met, for the transmission of the key, appears to be a union of this division, although we must remember that the academic ultimately is the one who walks away and tells the story. Does this mean the professor is the true site of revolution? Or just the ultimate point of progression?

Alternatively, we may need to consider Buen as a character who represents a romanticized rebel. It is not an accident that he appears to be Che Guevera re-incarnate. He is handsome and noble. He is easy to like, and easy to oppose to the ugly, fat, manipulative Police Chief. Though foils, Chabrol is clearly suggesting Buen over the Chief. In fact, the name Buenaventura means literally “Good Aventure” and the nickname “Buen” means simply good, clearly illustrating the good guy - bad guy binary. Does this mean that Buen is simply a propagandist imagining? A character whose likability advertises his cause?


Probably not. Because Buen is ultimately proven “wrong” about revolution, and because he returns to Treuffais, it seems that his ultimate value is that of a moral tale, a caution. His “good adventure” is actually misadventure, and though it turns out alright in the end, we are given a way as spectators and potential revolutionaries to sidestep all the violence and suffering of the film. We can go directly to academic discourse and philosophy as that is pointed out to be the answer.

Or is it? At the end of the film, Treuffais calls a journalist to tell Nada’s story. In this way, the story not philosophy is suggested to be the real way to start a cause. Perhaps then it is by developing mythologies and martyrs of revolution that change is effective and the state overthrown. PerhapsĀ  by extension the cinema and its fictious stories can actually effect real revolution.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS