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Reporter's Notebook: 'Entebbe' film gives unsubtle nod to struggling peace talks

"7 Days in Entebbe"
© Liam Daniel
Film's director tells i24NEWS 'terrorists have a conscious' worth exploring on screen

BERLIN -- This is likely to be the next film that gets Israel’s right-wing Culture Minister Miri Regev up in arms. The star-studded British rendition of Operation Entebbe, the daring Israeli raid to rescue hostages held in a Ugandan airport, received a mixed welcome when premiering at the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday – not so much because of its artistic qualities, but because of its not-even-slightly-veiled political message.

Camouflaged as an historic film on one of Israel’s greatest military feats, the film apparently seeks to voice biting criticism of nowadays politics on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The film "7 Days in Entebbe" by Brazilian director José Padilha, tells the story of the kidnapping and subsequent rescue mission of the passengers of Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris, hijacked on 27 June, 1976. Over a hundred hostages, mostly Israeli, were held for over a week in the airport of Entebbe, Uganda, while their captives, German and Palestinian terrorists, demanded the release of forty imprisoned Palestinian combatants.

The film consists of two parallel story lines: One focuses on the relationship between the terrorists and their captives, based on interviews with the passengers that allegedly portray a different narrative than the official version of the story. The other sheds light on the deliberations in the Israeli cabinet, and mostly the arguments between then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres on whether to negotiate with terrorists.

“When you look at Rabin and Peres and the dynamic between them, you realize how difficult it is for an Israeli politician to negotiate,” stressed the film’s director José Padilha in a press conference before the premiere.

“For an Israeli soldier, to be brave is to do what Yoni [Netanyahu, commander of the elite task force that stormed the terminal and the only Israeli commando victim] did – get on a plane, risk your life to save your countrymen. For an Israeli politician, to be brave is to do what Rabin did – to have the courage to sit at the table and negotiate, and Rabin was killed for trying to do this in Oslo.”

“Even though Rabin thought that the operation was doubtful, he had to approve it – because not approving it would create a political problem for him. This is true for the dynamic in Israel and Palestine today. It’s very difficult for an Israel or Palestinian politician to negotiate, because they lose political standing in their country.”

(Uri Herzl Tzchik/IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Defense Ministry Archives)

Incorporated in the film is a modern dance piece from 1998 by the Bathsheba dance company to the music of Echad Mi Yodea (“One who knows?” in Hebrew), a traditional cumulative song sung on Passover, the holiday celebrating the Jews’ liberation from slavery.

The sited dancers, in Jewish Orthodox dress, are seen making movements that suggest self harm. As the dance progresses, they strip themselves of their clothes, a metaphor for “getting rid of the politics that prevents negotiations,” explained Padilha. One dancer doesn’t do that, she keeps falling from her chair, as if shot. “It is a cinematic, visual way of conveying an idea that is intrinsic in the film.”

That message is far from subtle. The film ends with Rabin turning to Peres (played by Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi and British Eddie Marsan) amidst the celebrations and saying: “But Shimon, if we won’t learn to negotiate, the war will never end.” On screen captions then appear, telling how Rabin was assassinated in 1995 for signing the Oslo accords. Peres, reads the following caption, also became a supporter of the peace process in his later years.

The next one tells that Yoni Netanyahu was the older brother of Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who went into politics after his death. “Currently there are no negotiations between Israel and Palestine,” states the final caption, leaving it up to the viewer to decide if the last two facts are connected or not.

The film is strongly criticized for belittling Yoni Netanyahu’s role in the operation. Netanyahu, played by Israeli actor Angel Bonnani, delivers on screen only a handful of lines – most of which reflect his devotion to military life – before his dramatic death scene in the early stages of the mission.

But Padilha does not feel compelled to justify his choice. “Truth doesn’t need defense. When I shot this sequence I had next to me Amir Ofer, the first officer that entered the terminal. Two weeks before that we had the officer that entered and killed Brigitte and Bose, they were there. And when I put the marks for the actors – the place where Yoni was killed, how he was shot – all of this was done with those officers who were there.

“I respect the versions of the people who were there because they are eyewitnesses,” he stressed. “The versions of people who were not there… are the versions of people who were not there.”

Primarily, the story is told from the perspective of the two German terrorists, leftist extremists Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann, who were killed in the raid. It depicts their moral dilemmas and difficulty dealing with the inevitable comparison to the Nazis, as they too singled out the Jewish passengers. The casting of actors Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike as the hijackers was even criticized by some at the festival as simply being “too nice”.

Stefanie Loos (AFP)

A focal point of the film is the decision by Böse not to kill the hostages as the raid commenced. Instead, he pointed away his rifle and told them to stay down. This version of events strays from the official narrative, arguing that Böse and Kuhlmann did not have the time to kill the captives. But eyewitness Jacques Lemoine, the chief engineer on board the Air France flight that also attended the premiere in Berlin, swears by it.

“The hostages were challenging Böse’s motivation for doing what he did, they got into their heads,” noted Padilha.

Asked by i24NEWS if he is prepared for the backlash that might come from Israel for his portrayal of terrorists, the Brazilians director seemed undaunted. “Terrorists have a conscious. Terrorists are human beings, not zombies. If I assume that terrorists have no conscious, then I have to assume that the Palestinian terrorists and the German terrorists are no different. And If I assume that, then I cannot believe what Jacques told me, that Böse decided not to kill.

“They are very wrong human beings, they are doing a terrible thing, inexcusable, but they are human beings. If I portray terrorists as not being human beings then I’m somewhat crazy, don’t you think?”

Polina Garaev is i24NEWS' correspondent in Germany.



We from Brazilian and Christian community feel ashamed for this terrible and sad movie that aims to rewrite story and give voice to the criminals instead of the victims. This is kind of film only shows the inversion of values in the society that choose to prize bad examples over good ones. Mr Padilha has paved the road to bury his career forever.

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