Deconstructing the Entebbe Myth

By Domoina Ratsara

© Liam Daniel

On June 27, 1976, two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and two German members of the left-wing extremist group Revolutionary Cells teamed up to hijack an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. For a whole week, they held over a hundred passengers, mainly Israelis, as hostages.

The rescue efforts, historically known as the Entebbe operation, have been widely reconstructed in books and films, but in 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE, which premiered out of competition at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, José Padilha – winner of the Golden Bear in 2008 for ELITE SQUAD – provides a different version of the same story.

The Entebbe operation has inspired many Israeli filmmakers, but most of them follow the most current version, in which Yonatan, the brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plays a key role. Padilha’s version – using as a basis the book “Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 13” by historian Saul David – puts Yonatan in a much less important position.

7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE seems initially to take a strong pro-Palestinian stance, but throughout the film Padilha questions each protagonist’s decision. He explores the dilemma of whether or not to use violence to put an end to the situation, from the Prime Minister’s cabinet to the pro-Palestinian “freedom fighters”.

Padilha fills 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE with excruciating detail, and in every dialogue each word is heavily weighed. From the beginning, he structures the film as a fiction piece built with documentary tools: archival footage, chronological order and observational camera are balanced with care to legitimate his version, but also making it clear that this is a creative interpretation of a true fact.

Opening with a choreography by Ohad Naharin – one of the world’s preeminent contemporary choreographers – the film uses scenes of dance rehearsal and powerful music to ease the film tension, only to end up with a standing ovation, when the hostage-rescue mission has been successfully carried out.