Munich

MUNICH DEPICTS THE NEVER-ENDING UPWARD SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE
In 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 re-thinking 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