Monday, March 19, 2018

7 Days In Entebbe / *** (R)

Focus Features
Brigitte Kuhlmann: Rosamond Pike
Wilfred Böse: Daniel Brühl
Yitzhak Rabin: Lior Ashkenazi
Shimon Perez: Eddie Marzan
??: Ben Schnetzer
Patricia Martel: Andrea Deck
Jacques le Moine: Denis Ménochet

Focus Features presents a film directed by José Padilha. Written by Gregory Burke. Running time: 106 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence, thematic material, some drug use, smoking and brief strong language).

At Midnight of May 14, 1948 the Provisional Government of Israel declared the new State of Israel and applied for United Nations membership the very next day. Since then the State of Israel has been in conflict with the Palestinian people, who were displaced by the UN when the Israelis were given land the Palestinians claimed as their own. The conflict has frequently been bloody and involved the international community at large in the form of hijackings and violent protest throughout Europe. Even in writing these sentences I am wary of my word choices for fear of offending one side or the other. I have no dog in this race, but since it has been an international political issue for the entirety of my life, I am somewhat fascinated by the subject matter.

The new film 7 Days in Entebbe examines the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight by two Palestinians and two Germans, who took the fairly inspired and unexpected tactic of landing the plane in Entebbe, Uganda for negotiations under the protection of the unpredictable leader of that country, General Idi Amin. This is the fourth cinematic telling of this particular story, but the first to come after much of the details of the incident have been declassified by the Israeli government. The screenplay by Gregory Burke, who previously wrote the screenplay for the politically charged ’71, focuses on three different storylines. His first focus is on the two German hijackers, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfred Böse, portrayed by the film’s biggest names Rosamond Pike and Daniel Brühl. The second examines the decision making process by the Israeli government, in particular the opposing viewpoints between then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Minister of Defense (and future Prime Minister) Shimon Peres. A third, less fact-based storyline follows an unnamed Israeli Defense Force soldier who is part of the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal responsible for executing the risky rescue operation cooked up by Peres’s staff.

Director José Padilha, best known for directing and writing the Elite Squad films, bookends the incident with two dance performances, the first of which also parallels the climax of the rescue mission. With these beautifully filmed dance sequences, he signals that this will be a more cerebral approach to this event, rather than the disaster movie approaches the first films on Entebbe took. We later learn that the lead dancer is the girlfriend of the young soldier involved in the rescue. The couple argues about his job taking him away from her opening night. He doesn’t see that he has a choice. This is the heart of what the film has to say about the conflict in Israel. None of the players have much of a choice in the actions they take or the decisions they make.

Much is questioned about the two German hijackers. They, if anyone, do have a choice. Why have they chosen to take a side in this matter? Böse, a bookshop owner, doesn’t feel that he does have a choice. He sees an injustice in the Palestinian struggle that he can’t in good conscience do nothing about. With Kuhlmann, it’s more personal. She’s dug into the freedom fighting movement and feels obligated to others in the cause who have given their lives. Brühl and Pike do a good job capturing the complexities of these two in a situation they don’t fully control.  It isn’t lost on them that Germans taking Jewish people hostage isn’t going to look good in anyone’s eyes.

The conflict between Prime Minister Rabin and Peres is at times just as tense as the hostage situation. Lior Ashkenazi and Eddie Marzan do their roles justice as Rabin wants to break Israel’s policy of non-negotiation with terrorists, while Peres insists on a quick and very risky, considering the location in Uganda, military action. Rabin even plants a disruption agent in Peres’s team, which could speak to some of today’s politics, or maybe was just a necessary evil to ensure that the best plan is implemented. Of course, Rabin is under an extreme amount of pressure to please all sides with families of the hostages demanding the government do all that it can to return their loved ones home safely. Rabin feels negotiation is really the only way to achieve this, despite the fact that the terrorists’ demands include releasing over 40 Palestinian prisoners considered dangerous men to the Israeli State. In an ironic twist, when Peres later became Prime Minister himself, he would also adopt a policy of diplomacy above military action.

The film has not received wonderful critical notices. I was surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for this movie as it is very well made and brings a fairly clear understanding to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and why it seems so difficult to resolve. I figured the umbrage taken by critics must have to do with some overall political beliefs that I didn’t understand. It is interesting that with two Palestinian terrorists to work with the filmmakers don’t tell a Palestinian point of view. However, their stance is very clearly and sympathetically understood through the Germans.  But, I can see this being an issue for some Palestine supporters.

As it turns out, politics don’t seem to have anything to do with the poor critical reception. No, it seems most of the critics who deride the film do so on the stance that it isn’t exciting enough. While the film isn’t a thrill ride, I never expected it to be. I went in wanting to understand why no one could come to any understanding of the others point of view, and that’s what I got. It seems most critics expected this movie to be some sort of thriller, I guess much like the movies that came out right after the incident, the American television films Victory at Entebbe (1976) and Raid on Entebbe (1977), and the Israeli film Operation Thunderbolt (1977). Unseen by me, I somehow find it hard to believe that any of these movies, which had to have been hashed out incredibly quickly, made any effort to understand just what happened during that fateful week.

As for Padilha’s film, I found the drama of how everyone understands just where everyone else stands and the struggle to get around those stances quite fascinating. It seems to speak to much of the conflict we still find ourselves in today amongst many political arguments. Plus Padilha’s treatment is fair, even to the underrepresented Palestinians, and empathetic to all. The cinematography is also quite beautiful, wonderfully capturing the 70’s period. The dance sequences are especially well photographed and convey the conflict in yet another artistic medium and manner that is interesting to apply to the procedural it accompanies.

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