Nada are a gang of radical left-wing terrorists whose leader, Diaz (Fabio Testi) hatches a plot to kidnap the American ambassador. His fiery girlfriend Veronique Cash (Mariangela Melato), wine-swilling D’Arey (Lou Castel) and the politically jaded but loyal Épaulard (Maurice Gaurel) are in on the caper, but timid philosophy lecturer Treuffais (Michel Duchaussoy) wants no part and walks away. Diaz and his colleagues sequester the terrified ambassador at a quiet little farmhouse in the country, but unfortunately assigned to the case is Police Chief Goemond (Michel Aumont) who shows more interest in brutally eliminating the terrorists than rescuing the ambassador.
This was a radical departure for French suspense master Claude Chabrol, with frenzied violence and biting political satire in place of his usual middle class murder mysteries-cum-psychological studies. Equally his regular composer Pierre Jansen ditches those trademark subtle strings and piano for a more robust score that seethes with menacing anger. While the cast includes an array of familiar Chabrol players, the presence of Italian action-thriller and giallo regulars Fabio Testi, Lou Castel, Evelyn Scott and a striking turn from Mariangela Melato - whom eagle-eyed movie buffs may recognise from Flash Gordon (1980) - lend a strong Euro-crime vibe.
Chabrol may well have been influenced by the then-recent exploits of groups like the Baader-Meinhoff gang, although his film is based on a well-regarded book by left-leaning novelist Patrick Manchette. Actor/producer/screenwriter Alain Delon adapted Manchette’s work into a series of star vehicles - Three Men to Destroy (1980), For a Cop’s Hide (1981) and Le Choc (1982) - each time distorting the writer’s leftist sympathies towards his own right wing viewpoint, but Chabrol shows more fidelity. To a generation such as ours where terrorism has become inextricably bound with religious fundamentalism, the ideologies that drive Nada seem alien but their actions and those of the equally ruthless police are depressingly familiar.
Where a Hollywood director might lean towards the police or a younger European filmmaker side too closely with the anarchists, Chabrol shrewdly lacerates both terrorists and the establishment. The clod-hopping coppers are little more than state-sanctioned terrorists, brutally beating and torturing their way to a bullet-strewn resolution that satisfies nobody, while the anarchists are a dysfunctional family, indulging childish tantrums and self-loathing despair wrought by a nihilistic philosophy (“Long live death!” goes Diaz’s oxymoronic declaration) that leads nowhere. The American ambassador is less than sympathetic. Kidnapped from a brothel, while watching a gorgeous prostitute perform the dance of the seven veils, he rapidly degenerates into a pathetic figure, chanting “Pity! Pity!” in the corner.
Following the kidnapping, the film loses momentum somewhat with the Nada gang holed up in the hideout and aside from some black comic asides, no great build-up towards the clash between ruthless terrorists and trigger-happy cops. Only towards the end does Diaz realize “the state hates terrorism but prefers it to revolution.” Ultimately, the dissidents’ use of violence upholds the status quo. For all its boldness and even-handed depiction of a lose-lose situation, Nada is less likely to warrant repeat viewings than Chabrol’s less politically-more psychologically inclined thrillers.
A renowned director of French thrillers, he was one of the originators of the French New Wave of the fifties and sixties, often concentrating on middle class characters going through crises that led to murder, and made around fifty of these films in his long career. Starting with Le Beau Serge in 1958, he went on to direct such respected efforts as Les Cousins, The Champagne Murders, Les Biches, This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Blood Relatives, Poulet au Vinaigre, a version of Madame Bovary with frequent star Isabelle Huppert, L'enfer, La Ceremonie, The Girl Cut in Two with Ludivine Sagnier, and his final work for the cinema, Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu.