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A true story about a hijacking with an unexpected motif

By: Michael O'Sullivan The Washington Post
March 16, 2018 Updated: March 16, 2018 at 7:46 am
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Caption +
7 Days in Entebbe' German radicals Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) foment a hostage crisis in "7 Days in Entebbe," a docudrama about the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight ultimately grounded in Entebbe, Uganda. (Focus Features)

"Seven Days in Entebbe" is, as its name suggests, a pretty conventional ticktock of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France jetliner en route from Tel Aviv to Paris by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Red Army Faction, a German leftist group. Or it would be conventional, were it not for the fact that the movie opens with a startling snippet of performance by Israel's Batsheva Dance Company, making you wonder, for a second, whether you have stumbled into a screening of "Step Up 6" by mistake.

The footage of the dance "Kyr," a 1990 work by noted Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, features several dancers seated in a semicircle. Clad in the generic black suits and conservative headcoverings of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, they explode from left to right, in sequence, from their seats, throwing themselves ecstatically to their feet, as one dancer, in the middle of the group, collapses onto the floor in a heap, ruining the precision and symmetry of the arc.

And then the movie, by director José Padilha, begins in earnest, cutting to the hijacking, which brought more than 200 passengers, including 84 Israelis, to Uganda's Entebbe Airport. The fact-based drama, in reasonably gripping fashion, follows the weeklong showdown between the hijackers, including Germany's Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfried Böse (Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl), and the Israeli government.

Finally, after most of the hostages have been released - except for the Israelis, the crew and a few French travelers - Israel sends in a team of commandos to storm the airport.

Padilha cuts back and forth between Uganda and Israel, with occasional flashbacks to Germany, where the hijacking was planned, and Yemen, where its perpetrators received military training. Infighting - among hijackers over strategy, and between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (a marvelous Lior Ashkenazi) and Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) over whether to negotiate - lends drama to the standoff.

Woven throughout "Entebbe" are scenes taken from rehearsals for the dance performance that opens the movie. One of the dancers (Zina Zinchenko) - the one who falls - is the girlfriend of an Israeli soldier (Ben Schnetzer) who has been recruited for the rescue operation. Although their story delivers a message - "I fight so you can dance," he tells her, somewhat predictably - it is a minor one in the scheme of things.

"Entebbe" is, by this reading, a fairly standard glorification of Israeli military prowess. On a subtler level, however, the dance's themes of conformity and deviation resonate powerfully with the movie's true theme, which questions whether Israel's robotic stance of non-negotiation has been effective in the long run.

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