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The 1972 Munich Olympics were interrupted by Palestinian terrorists taking Israeli athletes hostage. Besides footage taken at the time, we see interviews with the surviving terrorist, Jamal Al Gashey, and various officials detailing exactly how the police, lacking an anti-terrorist squad and turning down help from the Israelis, botched the operation. Written by
Jon Reeves <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When I was a kid my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone.
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In Britain at least, this film has been strongly criticised by hardly disinterested intellectual heavyweights like Edward Said and Tom Paulin. The main argument against the film is that it takes place in an historical vacuum, that it shows members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team being taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists, but it does not explain the political reasons why this happened. This is largely true - although there is brief mention at the beginning of the horrific camp conditions Palestinians suffered in their own homeland appropriated by Israel, it says nothing about this highly contentious appropriation, about the natural urge to struggle against it.
This is underscored by a blatantly manipulative structure - while the representative of the hostages is (necessarily) solitary, anonymous, in hiding, talking in shadows (the other surviving terrorists were murdered by Israeli assassination squads; this information is recorded in a coda that
seems like some kind of chilling reward for the audience); the dead men are shown as almost saintly - pictured getting married, with babies, smiling, honest, healthy, sporty, part of a community and tradition - one story talks about the high-minded ideals of one coach who fraternised with his political enemies from Lebanon.
Aside from the dubious shamelessness of this manipulation, I don't really have a problem with the film's focus. Coming from a country where political terrorists have, for thirty years, been slaughtering wholesale largely apolitical citizens in the name of justice, who have used bogus political ideology as a front for gangsterism, I am somewhat out of sympathy with anything that proclaims humanitarian motives and leaves innocent people dead. Critics complain that ONE DAY ignores the story of the Palestinians, their feelings of repression and injustice - and it is unlikely a film on this subject will have a voiceover from a powerful Hollywood player, and win an Oscar - but to do this would abstract the event, would turn it into a political chess game, and not a ghastly abomination where real people, far too young, with families, are unaccountably murdered. It is the stuff of paranoid modernist literature - you wake up one morning with all your friends, and by sheer random chance, you're held hostage and killed.
So if we agree that the film is fatally biased, we can see that it has many virtues. ONE DAY has been called a thriller - it was literally so for me because I'd never heard about this atrocity - and the techniques used (the pounding score, the edgy editing, the foregrounding of clocks and deadlines, the withholding of explanatory, hindsight information) all contribute to a sense of almost unbearable tension. I don't know how this is for people (the majority) who know the story.
About half way through, as you begin to realise how things will probably turn out, the film stops being a thriller, and becomes an exercise in dread: time contracts, and you hope the film goes on forever so that the intolerable denouement is postponed. It is unbearable. But after the film you begin to question the ethics of all this. One of the themes of the film is the media treatment of the crisis, the reprehensible desire of the Olympic Committee to get it out of the way as quickly as possible - one victim's wife accuses the media of turning the crisis into a 'show'. But this is precisely what Macdonald does, turning human tragedy into an entertainment by turns kinetic and visceral.
Other plusses are the revelations of shocking, farcical German incompetence, desperate to reveal deNazification by having no security whatsoever; the callous, indifferent face-saving here by representatives of the police is the film's true, sickening, achievement. The brief montages of the sporting events, the whole point of the Olympics, are exhilirating, soundtracked to an uplifting Moog Bach, making you wonder why people can't make better sports movies.
ONE DAY has been compared to Errol Morris's documentaries, and you can see, superficially, why - the Phillip Glass score, the distortion of footage and time, the letting authority hang itself. But Morris, in a film like THE THIN BLUE LINE, is concerned not so much with presenting a truth as destroying the official version, exposing its weaknesses, repressions, lies. His recreated scenes, heightened images, distancing effects, all point to the artificiality of the official 'truth'. Morris uses documenatary's claim to authenticity and truth, to expose the inauthenticity of 'truth'. His is a critical cinema.
MacDonald, however, IS offering official truth here - there is no real difference between what he says and the ABC news reporter. This is not a critical film, pandering to firmly entrenched ideologies. Further, the documentary as a genre is limited. It can tell us about facts, analyses. It can reveal witness. There is an astonishing frisson in being able to see these terrorists walking and talking on the big screen, that projection of fantasies, like people, not mythical constructs. But documentary can never get at people's inner lives, and as this is what real life really is, documentaries seem thin and superficial, a betrayal of life. And so, finally, ironically, the victims DO become abstract - simply that, victims. We know there is more to people than a handful of photographs and highly partial witness.
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