New take on real-life hijack drama in ‘7 Days in Entebbe’

Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruehl play two German militants in ‘7 Days in Entebbe’. (Courtesy Berlinale)
Updated 22 February 2018
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New take on real-life hijack drama in ‘7 Days in Entebbe’

BERLIN: The counter-terrorism plot seems more far fetched than many action thrillers, yet “7 Days in Entebbe,” which premiered at the Berlin film festival Monday, depicts a real-life airline hijack drama.
The movie recounts what is often called the most audacious hostage rescue mission ever staged, Israel’s 1976 “Operation Thunderbolt” in Uganda, but aims to be more than a tale of military heroism.
Instead Brazilian director Jose Padilha (“Narcos“) explores the harrowing events from multiple perspectives: that of the hijackers and their hostages, and of the Israeli leaders forced to decide whether to negotiate or fight.
Several previous movies, said Padilha, had depicted “a gigantic military feat and ignored the interaction between the hostages and their hijackers and the political aspects in Israel.”
Padilha, a previous Berlinale winner for “Elite Squad,” said he had met former hostages, flight crew and Israeli political and military veterans to get beyond the “standard military narrative.”
The battle between Israel’s then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the more hawkish defense minister Shimon Peres helps illustrate why there is still no Middle East peace, said the director.
“You see the dynamic, you realize how difficult it is for a politician in Israel to negotiate” with the enemy, Padilha said, adding that this was true on both sides of the conflict and “still true today.”
The hijacking of a Paris-bound Air France flight from Tel Aviv was a joint plot of Palestinian militants and their far-left German backers, who saw themselves as anti-imperialist revolutionaries.
The militants — the two Germans are portrayed by Daniel Bruehl (“Good Bye, Lenin!“) and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl“) — took over the flight after an Athens stop-over.
After a refueling stop in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, they headed to Entebbe, Uganda, then ruled by brutal dictator Idi Amin, who is described in the film as a “lunatic” who feeds his enemies to crocodiles.
The divergent motivations of the kidnappers become evident in the film when they separate out Jewish passengers, Israelis as well as non-Israelis, in scenes that chillingly evoke the Holocaust.
Bruehl’s character Wilfried Boese, a book-seller who considers himself an anti-fascist urban guerrilla, is portrayed as increasingly troubled.
As the cracks widen, a Palestinian militant angrily tells Boese: “You are here because you hate your country. I am here because I love mine.”
The fear of a Jewish bloodbath also drives Rabin’s cabinet, where Peres puts together a plan involving 100 commandos in under-the-radar flights who launch a surprise raid using a fake presidential limousine.
On day seven, the special forces shot dead all the kidnappers and scores of Ugandan troops while rescuing all but four of the remaining 106 hostages.
The only Israeli soldier killed was unit commander Yonatan Netanyahu, the elder brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On their way out, the Israeli forces blew up Uganda’s fleet of Soviet MiG fighters, although the film does not depict the fiery end of the operation, instead interspersing the battle scenes with a dance choreography.
The new version, based in part on testimony from flight engineer Jacques Lemoine, shows Boese deciding against massacring the Jewish passengers before he goes down in a hail of bullets.
“The hostages had got into his head,” Padilha told a press conference on the movie, which is screening out of competition, adding that this had helped to “save their own lives.”
Asked whether he was ready for a “backlash” against showing “terrorists with a conscience,” the director said that, although they do “terrible, inexcusable things... terrorists are human beings.”


Called to the barre: Saudi ballet gets its groove on

Ballet’s popularity is growing among different age groups. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 15 December 2018
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Called to the barre: Saudi ballet gets its groove on

  • Widad Al-Kibsi, a Saudi ballet instructor at the studio, said that people in Jeddah were now familiar with ballet
  • A 13-year-old student at the studio, Oroub Al-Shareef, said that she began ballet when she was 4 years old

JEDDAH: Ballet, one of the world’s most demanding art forms, is enjoying soaring popularity in Saudi Arabia as a new generation discovers its physical, mental and social benefits, and a Jeddah-based studio is at the forefront of the dance’s development in the Kingdom.
Sera McKnass, founder of iBallerina, said that the studio is shaping future ballerinas to be effective members of society.
“The goal is not only to pass on the art of ballet but also to raise up participants into healthy, classy and confident, caring individuals,” the 30-year-old Turkish-Lebanese master teacher said.
Ballet’s popularity is growing among different age groups.
“Mothers sign up their daughters to be trained as ballerinas, but now young adults have dreams of learning how to pirouette, chasse and jete,” McKnass told Arab News. “They come to iBallerina to start the journey and transform their souls and bodies, becoming stronger and more graceful women.”
Widad Al-Kibsi, a Saudi ballet instructor at the studio, said that people in Jeddah were now familiar with ballet. “It's now in most of the main gyms, and private or international schools in the city.”
The 20-year-old advises aspiring ballerinas to start at a young age. “It’s important to start early because improved strength and flexibility are easily acquired at a younger age.”
Ballet offers myriad physical benefits, she said. “It improves muscle tone and definition, elongates arms, and aligns the posture properly.”
Al-Kibsi said that while many Saudis saw ballet as an activity for children, “not a lot of them are aware that adults can also perform. They assume that you should be thin or flexible from the get-go. They don’t understand that with dedication and discipline, ballet strengthens and increases flexibility.”
Dana Garii, a 23-year-old Saudi writer, has been practicing ballet at the studio since February.
“I’ve been wanting to do it since I was young, but I couldn’t find the opportunity. When I found they have classes here, I just went for it. People asked me, ‘aren’t you too old?’ But that’s a myth. People think you can’t do ballet after a certain age, but you can start any time,” she told Arab News.
“Ballet is important to me. It’s more than just the physical aspects — it has taught me how to be modest, and that nothing hard ever comes easy.
“It has also taught me patience and how to take on difficult situations because it’s not only difficult physically but also psychologically. It has taught me how to overcome my fears,” Garii said.
A 13-year-old student at the studio, Oroub Al-Shareef, said that she began ballet when she was 4 years old.
“There was a TV show for kids about the mouse that did ballet (‘Angelina Ballerina’) and it inspired me. I’ve always wanted to be a ballerina,” she said.
“Ballet is very important to me. Dance is one of the ways I express myself and I feel at one with myself when I’m practicing.
“It’s a very hard thing to do, but it brings me so much joy.”
Saudi graphic designer Sara Al-Sabaan, 22, has also been practicing ballet since she was a young child.
“I started dancing in a ballet school in Guadalajara, in Mexico. Then I continued at the Kinetico dance school in Riyadh,” she said.
Al-Sabaan’s mother inspired her to take up the art form. “I’m following in her footsteps. She was a ballet dancer herself.”
The young dancer has watched ballet’s growth in popularity. “Dance classes were available when I was a child, but they have been most popular in the past decade.”
Practicing ballet is a form of self-expression, she said.
“I have danced modern, contemporary and classical ballet, and it affects me immensely. Not only is it a great physical activity, it’s also an outlet for self-expression through movement.”