Longwave begins with a premise that I’m sure a lot of journalists have faced in their careers. After a new regulation is put in place by a counselor, the French-speaking Swiss Radio channel is told to put in safer, more pro-Swiss programs and news stories. As a result, the director, de Roulet (Jean-Stéphane Bron), sends a team of reporters to Portugal to write a puff piece on how much Switzerland has helped out the other country. The year is 1974. If you know your history, you know what happened in Portugal in 1974.
If you don’t know your history, well, here you are. A revolution took place in Portugal, during which time the dictatorship was overthrown by the people and the military. Our team begins looking for Swiss influences in the country, but winds up bearing witness — and perhaps influencing, if ever so slightly — to this revolution. All while being charming and funny, because this is a comedy. The revolutionary activities never get threatening or dangerous — nothing like that.
The crew: Julie (Valérie Donzelli) seems to be on the brink of leading her own morning show, but isn’t quite there yet (possibly due to a bias against women; this is 1974); Cauvin (Michel Vuillermoz) has covered wars, you know, but seems to be slowly losing his memory; Bob (Patrick Lapp) is the man who records the sound, and has his own little idiosyncrasies; and Pelé (Francisco Belard) isn’t technically a part of the crew, but the other three find him in a small village, and since he speaks both Portuguese and French, he’s hired as a translator. He’s not even 18, and dreams of someday meeting film director Marcel Pagnol.
Much of the comedy is of the screwball variety, because lots of comedies from this era were like that, and our filmmakers are trying to re-capture that feel. It’s mostly successful. Most of the jokes that are attempted wind up working, and you’re going to be laughing for a good chunk of Longwave. Sure, some of the running gags wear thin by the end — like how Cauvin continually butchers the Portuguese language — but even they’re varied enough to stay mostly fresh.
Despite only playing for 85 minutes, Longwave does feel a bit long. There’s a lot of time spent at the beginning going around the country, trying to find out how generous Switzerland has been — hint: not very — to Portugal, and I feel like some of that could have been trimmed. Maybe just one stop. Save us 10 minutes. Then we can get to the revolution quicker, which is when the film really begins to pick up and get interesting.
One of the things that Longwave does best is capture the feel of 1974 — at least, to someone who wasn’t alive at that point in time. It does feel very much like a different time, and even the way that the film has been shot makes it feel like it’s from a different period. If you told somebody that this was a film released in, say, 1977, and was a true story based around the revolution, I think a lot of people would believe you, assuming they didn’t recognize the actors from other projects (I didn’t).
Speaking of the actors — what a segue, am I right? — their charming performances are part of the reason that Longwave works. Valérie Donzelli and Michel Vuillermoz work well together and against each other in the showier roles, Patrick Lapp turns in a very understated — until the revolution is in full effect — performance as their sound guy, and Francisco Belard is a nice guy as their translator. They all seem to get on well with each other, and that chemistry helps make some of the jokes work.
Longwave is a charming puff piece of a movie — about a puff piece that turns into coverage and participation of the revolution in Portugal in 1974. It’s funny, it’s enjoyable, it might bring awareness to the revolution that lots of people might not know occurred, and it really does feel like it was a product of the time. It doesn’t feel like a movie from 30 years in the future; it could have been filmed right then and we would be none the wiser. It’s a good bit of light fun, even if it does feel long at just 85 minutes.