7 Days in Entebbe
Blending avant-garde ballet with a plane-hijacking may bewitch, bother and bewilder many moviegoers, but I found “7 Days in Entebbe” a thought-provoking and artistically innovative exploration of terrorism. Flawed, yes, but a noble experiment.
The story is a docudrama that recounts the June 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. Two German and two Palestinian revolutionaries redirected the flight to Uganda and demanded the release of political prisoners (held in four countries) in return for sparing the lives of the passengers, which included more than 100 Israelis and Jews.
Ultimately, this event resulted in a daring rescue mission by Israel that freed 102 of the 106 captives.
Although the script has been “accused” of being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli, the truth is more nuanced: the film attempts to take us inside the minds of hearts of both the pro-Palestinian rebels who carry out the bold capture of a commercial flight and the Israeli leaders (Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres) who must decide how to respond.
And, yes, there’s an unapologetic message imploring Israel and Palestine to work things out and live peacefully together.
The terrorists are portrayed as a mix of ruthless hardliners who are ready to kill children and sensitive idealists who hope to obtain justice without bloodshed.
Similarly, the Israeli cabinet wrestles with whether to negotiate to save the lives of the hostages or whether to maintain its traditional position that it will never negotiate with terrorists.
The Israeli leaders are aware that a hardline position could mean the execution of children. They are also aware that opening talks with the hijackers might lead to a flood of future terrorist kidnappings that would lead to even more deaths.
We see an Israeli leader send signals he is willing to negotiate while simultaneously laying plans for a bold rescue mission. He knows the blood of these passengers will be on his hands if they die – and he’s aware that all of his options carry the very real risk of loss of lives.
Simultaneously, we see a hijacker with a conscience refuse to kill a hostage while another announces that the shootings must begin “Now!” Both sides are portrayed as a mix of extremists and moderates.
Any script that tries to portray both sides in ethically complex ways will inevitably be attacked by all parties, and that’s what’s happened.
An Israeli critic was predictably blunt.
“Director Jose Padilha seems to be conflicted about the story he is trying to tell,” writes an Israeli critic in the Jerusalem Times. “He must know that people who point guns at children's heads, no matter how noble their long-term goals may be, are inherently unsympathetic.”
The film has alienated a plethora of people, resulting in bad reviews and tepid ticket sales. The word-of-mouth was so bad, my expectations were very low. Some of the reviews ignored the politics and simply noted that this thriller isn’t very thrilling.
Those mundane moviegoers obviously wanted an action film with less ethical pondering.
And some critics hated the insertion of avant-garde ballet into the structure.
That dance number is “Minus 16,” by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. One scene shows a circle of dancers falling back in their chairs, as if shot, perhaps in battle. That’s choreographed like a “wave” at a football game, moving from left to right with each dancer falling milliseconds after the one before. The accompanying music is an African-inspired chant.
I was quite captivated by that dance, a sort of blood poetry that blended provocatively with a story of terrorism in the Mideast.
There are a lot of reasons for moviegoers not to like this film: the politics, the dancing, the pondering, the predictability.
But some moviegoers are going to applaud this experimental film for breaking the mold of sequels, prequels and remakes.
If you are one of those who is not afraid to sample a new spicy dish for dinner followed by a new type of movie after dessert, “7 Days in Entebbe” is worth a look.