It takes a while to get into the screwy rhythms of “Operation: Nation,” a dark and somewhat farcical Polish spoof of the idea of Polish Nazis.
I mean, come on. Historical anti-Semitism notwithstanding, how much do you have to excuse, forget or simply be too stupid to grasp to realize how nuts that sounds?
It’s about an unhappy, aimless 20ish Pole who gets sucked into not a neo-Nazi group, but Nazi Nazis led by his coke-addled would-be fuhrer of an older cousin. He’s a deluded armband wearer who’s taken his name — “Roman” — a tad too seriously.
Straszek (Maciej Musiałowski) is stuck sharing a room with his K-Pop obsessed teen sister, his dreams of “getting out” of sleepy Bialystok torn asunder when he tore up the knee he needs to play soccer. He is trapped in a dead-end job working for a keep-it-all-to-myself parking lot owner with no prospects.
The sports posters have come down in his room. Military ones have taken their place. But it’s obvious he is adrift and unformed.
“I don’t have my own opinions,” he admits at one point, in Polish with English subtitles, or dubbed into English.
Which is why Roman (Borys Szyc) is giving him the hard sell as Straszek comes down to court to pick him and some of his followers up.
Yes, they were throwing a Jew-hating, violence-preaching, white supremacist “Hitler’s 132nd Birthday Party,” complete with a cake with Swastika in every slice, a party which the cops broke up. But the court sees that these idiots can’t draw a legible Swastika, that most can’t answer the question “Is Hitler dead?” or form a coherent sentence and lets them go.
But Staszek might be tempted. Test him by sending him over to punch out a drunken “leftist paparazzi” in the pub.
The trouble is, pretty Pola (Magdalena Maścianica) has just come home from grad school in Warsaw. She mistakes the swing Straszek takes at the drunk for chivalry, and numbers are exchanged.
Pola is the Polish word for “woke” (Obudził) in the flesh — liberal, tolerant, an ally to all the big causes college kids buy into.
Will Straszek follow her down the primrose path to chaining themselves to trees to prevent deforestation (which he envisions the moment he meets her)? Or will he hide his new “gang” from her and join the dunces who try to get attention by going viral burning a homemade Orthodox Jewish doll (it’s made of flame-retardant fabric), who plan “Operation: Bomb a Synagogue” with a code-name that’s a bit of a giveaway, or dream of attacking a Pride parade with “Operation: Blow a Homo?”
Straszek’s parents are MOST concerned that he’s gay. There’s a priest who cluelessly lends the Proud Poles the attic of the rectory as their clubhouse. When they’ve diagrammed their attack on a synagogue on a chalkboard, he’s helpful enough to show the morons how to draw a Star of David. THAT’S what gets his attention.
Director Piotr Kumik and writers Jakub Rużyłło and Łukasz Sychowicz have a seriously topical satire on their hands, with the state of world politics swinging perilously towards the militant right.
Their film is sort of Pythonesque in its attempt at finding fun in the thuggish idiots who populate the international far right. As we hear the group names that Staszek stumbles into on one cannot help but think of the rift between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea in “Life of Brian.”
But this is much darker, and tone is perhaps the place where “Operation: Nation” falls short. It’s not as scary as it might be, and it’s not as funny as it should be.
Nazis, piled into a Mercedes for a trip into the country, with Roman ruling out this gas station (“No, Israel controls it.”) and that one (“They support LGTBQ.”) until they run out of petrol.
He and his minions can’t get the damned gay acronyms right, can’t construct a sentence that doesn’t have a “blow a homo” gaffe built into it. Some of this is laugh-out-loud funny, but it doesn’t all play that way, despite the witty wordplay.
A real spit take? Roman takes a follower’s head in his hands to give him the key-code for something VERY important. But he’s covering the dude’s ears so he can’t hear it.
That’s seriously stupid. And funny.
I wish it all came together better, this blend of violence (a fight, a riot and a stabbing), first blush of romance, mockery of bigots and the dangerous activities which the law (Straszek’s dad is a cop) isn’t concerned about but only Pola and her pals see as a threat.
There’s a big target here, and a lot of funny swings at it. But “Operation: Nation” never quite plays. Or perhaps it genuinely loses something in translation.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, drug abuse, nudity, profanity
Cast: Maciej Musiałowski, Magdalena Maścianica, Borys Szyc, Mateusz Król and Karol Kadłubiec
Credits: Directed by Piotr Kumik, scripted by Jakub Rużyłło, Łukasz Sychowicz. A Canal+ film on Netflix.
Running time: 1:37