Saturday, January 07, 2006

film - Munich


Just shy of three hours, Munich is an excellent film that is causing a lot of controversy among Jewish groups in the US and Israel, and among Palestinians. By upsetting both groups, he has found elusive middle ground that saves the film from being Oliver Stone-preachy while weaving tension and moral ambiguity, from beginning to end.

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Directed by Steven Spielberg, this is the second film based on the 1984 book spanVengeance:The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by Canadian journalist George Jonas, the first being the 1985 HBO made for television movie, Sword of Gideon.

Mossad agent and ex-bodyguard for Prime Minister Golda Meier, Aver Kauffman (Eric Bana), is asked to head a secret, unofficial team, on a very dangerous mission to that would take him away from his pregnant wife for many months, if not years. He is assigned four other men, most of whom are seemingly unlikely members of an elite hit squad. The only other athletic person is Steve, aggressive and feisty, played by a crackling, magnetic Daniel Craig, the new James Bond. Craig, blonde with deep blue eyes, as revealed in a sniper scene, looks ironically like a perfect example of an Aryan. Ciarán Hinds, who played the Russian President Nemerov in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, is the clean up guy, who removes evidence. Mathieu Kassovitz plays Robert the toy-maker turned bomb disposal expert turned bomb-maker. Hanns Zischler is Hans, the document forger. Showing up occasionally as the official liaison between Mossad and Avner’s team is Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim.

Prime Minister Meier endorses the mission by saying"…every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.” Other dialogue in the film that resonates with the Israeli perspective includes Avner’s mother saying that the Jews had to create their own homeland since no one was going to give it to them. These are examples of why Palestinians groups see this film as biased towards Israel, but to dismiss it as such is to sell it short, as it offers dialogue that neither side supports, and that those without a stake in the middle-east – most viewers – will chew on it, right to the film’s end.

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Early on, Aver finds a mysterious source of intelligence who is willing to find the locations of persons of interest who have gone underground, but only on the condition that Aver is working for no government. While he doesn’t give up that he is unofficially tied to the Israelis, it’s obvious that he is probably Mossad since all his desired targets are Palestinians.

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As the team assassinate the bad guys throughout Europe, they also learn that the Palestinians retaliate, killing off magnitudes more people. Not mentioned in the film are the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon bombed by Israeli jets in retaliation, four days after the massacre, which was in turn condemned by the UN Security Council. They begin to wonder if their mission is worthwhile and even moral, with arguments about why they aren’t just arresting people for trial? Also, some of the Palestinians they kill are shown as being regular humans with families or cultured and intelligent, rather than as one-dimensional bad guys. They feel guilty about some of their killings and one of the characters becomes very heavily consciously burdened. It’s this moral conflict that brings the film its best tension. In one of the most electric scenes, Avner, mistaken for a German, has a conversation with a PLO team leader who explains and justifies, the Palestinians struggle with Israel, for a homeland. This is one of the scenes that is generating criticism among Jewish groups, even though the director is a prominent Jew and supporter of Israel.

Meir Jolobitz, executive director of the New York-based Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), told

"First, the film which claims to be inspired by true events does not reflect true events. Spielberg is inventive.

"Secondly, he tries to humanize Arab terrorists by legitimizing their murder of Jews as their only way to establish a Palestinian state."

The ZOA has called for a public boycott of the film.

At one point in the film, one of the team members talks about how the Israelis could end up becoming killers like the people they are hunting. Team member Carl replied that they have long been like that, since they had to be killers in order to establish the state of Israel. Now, this sort of statement would be seen to be anti-Israeli since it equates the blood shed by creators of modern day Israel to the Palestinian terrorist – a moral equivalence that some will find outrageous.

The film didn't seem like almost three hours long to me. I was totally drawn in as the film unfolded within the murky confines of international betrayal with its lack of assurance. Is the family that sources valuable information playing all sides? Do they betray friends for money? Are they really Mossad operatives carefully feeding the unofficial team the finest information? Or, are they helping the Palestinian leadership do a little house cleaning? The flashbacks to the massacre itself are also riveting. There's lots of juicy, factual story not included, such as the Israeli offer to send in one of their experienced commando teams, which was rejected. The German offer to trade money for the hostages and then have high-ranking German officials switch places with the hostages, also wasn't mentioned.

By not pleasing either the Palestinian or the Jewish communities, and yet ironically supporting both by presenting two sides of the dispute in the film, Munich offers a timely opportunity for discourse about sacrificing values in the face of conflict for survival, the increasingly popular moral equivalency debate and on a more basic level, the future of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, especially in the post-Sharon era.

Here’s some interesting information from the Wikipedia entry about the Munich Massacre. In the book Striking Back : The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response, published December 20, 2005, by Aaron J. Klein, the author contends that the Mossad only killed one man directly tied to the Munich Massacre, and that was in 1992. He mentions that the real planners had gone into hiding in Eastern Bloc countries and that the ones who were killed off were lesser Palestinian activists. The Mossad made them out to be some of the planners and the PLO trumpeted their importance so the legend of the power of the Mossad grew.

The website also contends that in the 1999 book by the only surviving planner of the attack, Abu Daoud, Memoirs of a Palestinian Terrorist, funds for the attack were supplied by Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently the President of the Palestinian Authority.

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