Politics in Claude Chabrol's work are, like his fallen Catholicism, filtered through an ambivalent eye that's less agit-prop than moral-sardonic. Though it played a cameo in the skewered Gaullist aspirations of Wedding in Blood, his sense of political irony is central to this hot-button thriller, huddling would-be revolutionaries and their establishment nemesis under an umbrella of devastating cynicism. Revving up for their Paris upheaval, the eponymous medley of activists (which include Fabio Testi's bearded firebrand, Maurice Garrel's impotent intellectual, Michel Duchaussoy's malcontent teacher and Michelangela Melato's Uzi-toting frau) shanghais the American ambassador from his weekly brothel stop. Waiting for the ransom up in their pastoral hideout, they too late realize that the authorities, acting through sadistic police stooge Michel Aumont, are using the kidnapping as excuse to conduct an anti-terrorist massacre. Virtually a lampoon of Costa-Gravas' halo-wearing rebels, the film's ragtag freedom-fighters are a bumbling lot, their plans constantly poked through by alcoholism, disillusionment, myopic zeal and other assorted troubles. Is the director guilty, as one character accuses Garrel, of "no longer believing in revolution but acting out of despair"? Actually, Chabrol is as much of a radical as his more militant May '68 chums, only his anti-bourgeois fervor is leveled by an inquiring skepticism that refuses to write blank checks to either side. If the Nada folks emerge with more humanity once the dust has settled it is because their attempts, no matter how flawed, reveal a genuine impetus for change, while the ruthless machinations of the government, manipulating both their enemies and each other, are retro-Vichy. Far from nihilistic, Chabrol's cynicism bellies an impassioned, even anguished engagement, chillingly illustrated by the final, carnage-surveying high-angle panning shot. From Jean-Patrick Manchette's novel. With Lou Castel, André Falcon, and Viviane Romance.
--- Fernando F. Croce