Monday, March 19, 2018

7 Days in Entebbe

7 Days in Entebbe is a historical drama about a familiar event (familiar at least to those of us old enough to remember it), the terrorist hijacking of an Air France airliner in 1976 and the subsequent hostage standoff in Idi Amin's Uganda that lasted for a week until their heroic rescue by Israeli commandos. Since we know what is going to happen, the audience’s interest is inevitably focused on other elements in the drama. Personally I was particularly interested in the conflicts and debates within the Israeli government, in particular the back-and-forth between Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Defence Minister Shimon Peres. Another great drama is the debates among the terrorists themselves. Although it was ultimately the Palestinian Terrorists who took over and made demands of the Israeli government, the film focuses mainly on the German couple, members of the infamous Baader-Meinhof Gang, one of the bizarre European terrorists groups spawned by the political and social chaos of the Western world in the 1970s. (From our contemporary vantage point, with our contemporary “war on terrorism,” it may be easy to forget how much terrorist violence there was in the world in the 1970s – not just the obvious terrorist activities of the PLO and the IRA but also other groups like the German Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red Brigades, and the American Weather Undergound and the SLA.).
Terrorist groups like the IRA and the PLO were utterly reprehensible, but at least they had causes which one could comprehend and debate the possible merits of - or more likely their lack of merit, The actions of affluent Americans and Europeans who adopted a pseudo-Marxist world-view and a commitment to world revolution never made much sense, however. The film does a good job of highlighting the absurdity of the German terrorists’ revolutionary rhetoric and the pointlessly suicidal nature of their movement. Ultimately they are portrayed as the destructive fanatics that they were, but not in a way which excludes some appreciation of their complexity as otherwise possibly sympathetic individuals, absurdly committed to and warped by a crazy ideology.
The film also does a credible job of highlighting the tensions (personal and political) within the Israeli government and the fiddiculty - in a democratic society - of maintaining a necessary but inevitably unpopular policy of never negotiating with terrorists. Unfortunately, especially toward the end, the film seems to veer into an absurd, ideological linkage between that dilemma and the larger dilemma of how to deal in the longer term with the problem of Arab intransigence.
Where the film fails terribly, however, is in its bizarre attempt to give the events a uniquely creative, possibly symbolic, artistic feel. One of the commandos involved in the rescue is portrayed as having a girlfriend who is a member of an Israeli modern dance troop. For most of the film, this is just a distracting sub-plot. But then, when the long-awaited rescue sequence arrives, it is amazingly interspersed with a performance by the dance troop! Undoubtedly the dance was “creative.” Undoubtedly, interspersing the climax of the film with this distracting performance was also “creative.” Undoubtedly it also almost completely ruins an otherwise good film!

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