Political Film Society - Newsletter #242 -December 15, 2005

December 25, 2005


MunichIn Munich, director Steven Spielberg appears to agree with Saverio Costanzo, whose recent film Private shows that Israelis are losing the fight against the indefatigable Palestinians. When Munich begins, nine Palestinians kidnap and execute eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympiad in 1972 but escape justice. Israel's public response is to lob artillery, killing hundreds of Palestinians indiscriminately, but the secret response is to set up a five-man death squad, headed by Avner (played by Eric Bana). Much of the film's factual grounding is in Vengeance (1984) by George Jonas. With almost unlimited cash in Swiss banks, the five are to eliminate the Munich assassins, who are members of the militant Black September. After the Israeli government demands that they sever their ties as intelligence officers so that Tel Aviv can deny any part in the operation, they seek informants about the whereabouts of the nine. In Paris they locate their most reliable sources, anarchists Louis (played by Mathieu Amalric) and his father (played by Michael Lonsdale), who are impressed that they have $200,000 to offer for the locations where they can find each of the nine. The death squad visits Athens, Beirut, Düsseldorf, London, New York, Paris, and elsewhere, executing most of the nine, but there are inevitable glitches in each operation, and by the end of the film only two of the five are alive. Within a few months after taking the assignment, Avner parks his wife Daphna (played by Ayelet Zurer) and baby daughter in Brooklyn to be out of harm's way, indicating uncertainty about his assignment before anyone in the death squad expresses misgivings. But frustrations along the way prompt serious rethinking along the following lines: (1) The Munich perpetrators could instead have been hunted down, arrested, and put on trial, similar to the fate of Adolf Eichmann in 1960. (2) For every Palestinian death in the leadership of Black September, there is always a replacement, so the assignment may never end. (3) For every Palestinian death, more Israelis are assassinated in response. (4) Instead of proving to the world that Israel is an exemplary country because of respect for democracy and human rights, revenge responses prove the opposite. (5) Each assassination attempt runs the risk of bringing death to innocent people. (6) Secrecy about the death squad means that they are expendable so far as the Israeli government is concerned; they have more enemies than friends. (7) While on assignment, members of the death squad yearn for normal family life. (8) A member of the death squad may be a double agent, so they must watch their backs. (9) Due to glitches, the death squad may not fulfill its entire mission. (10) They are breaking the law. (11) The CIA has made a Faustian pact with a Black December leader. (12) The Palestinians are prepared to continue the war brought on them by Israel for a thousand years because they have nothing to lose until they are victorious, dispossessed as they are of a homeland under alien occupation. Munich, thus, is Spielberg's way of telling both sides to stop the endless revenge violence and to find peace--that there will be no victory if the war on terror involves unprincipled violence on both sides. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Munich for two awards in 2005--as best film exposé and best film urging peaceful methods for resolving conflict. MH

CacheCaché, directed by Michael Haneke, is a French mystery suspense film in which fifty-year-old Georges Laurent (played by Daniel Auteuil) and his spouse Anne (played by Juliette Binoche) receive unsolicited surveillance videotapes of their Paris townhouse. The contents are unremarkable, but tapes keep piling up on their doorstep, and Anne receives telephone calls from a man demanding to speak to her husband but not identifying himself. From the angle of the photographic point of origin, there is only one apartment from which the tapes could be made--the residence of a Majid (played by Maurice Bénichou) and his son (played by Walid Afkir). Naturally, the tension level increases as the harassment continues, especially when tapes are wrapped in crude drawings--one of a man with blood coming out of his mouth, the other of a decapitated, bleeding rooster. One day, their twelve-year-old son Pierrot (played by Lester Makedonsky), who has earlier received a postcard with one of the drawings, fails to come home for the night, so they report the matter to the police, who barge into Majid's apartment and arrest both occupants on a charge of suspected kidnapping. When Pierrot appears the following morning, the Laurents are relieved; meanwhile, Majid and his son are released from custody. Why would Majid take the trouble to engage in harassment? Georges has nightmares, recalling a time when he was six and his parents tried to adopt an orphaned Algerian boy named Majid. Opposed to the adoption, Georges tricked Majid into chopping off the head of a rooster so that he could tell his parents that he acted in a barbaric manner. As a result, the adoption ended, and Majid went to live in orphanages until he reached the legal age to go out on his own. Clearly, Majid's current harassment is payback, but Georges refuses at first to reveal his knowledge of Majid to his wife. One day, Majid summons Georges to his apartment and slits his throat. Georges then feels remorse but tries to resume normal activities when Majid's son appears at his workplace, demanding to talk to him. When they repair to the men's washroom, Georges tries to threaten him with unpleasant consequences for any future harassment, but the latter replies that he did not engage in the tape harassment; he just wants to know how he will react to Majid's death, and he informs Georges that he has now fulfilled his curiosity. In the final scene, Georges is waiting for Pierrot in his automobile outside his school. Other children are leaving school for the day, but Pierrot does not appear. The film then ends, leaving some filmviewers bewildered, while others will infer that the absence of Pierrot is another payback. The point of the film is to demonstrate that arrogant French have collectively orphaned many poor Algerians and others from their former colonies, who live with so much discrimination in contemporary France that there should be no surprise about the riots of November 2005. A mid-film scene where Georges rudely castigates a polite bicyclist from a former African colony states the theme quite eloquently. Caché's allegory, thus, proves to have been very prescient indeed. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Caché as best film on human rights of 2005. MH