Political Film Review #567

After World War II, some 7 million displaced persons were placed in 800 resettlement camps operated by the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Agency. Due to bombing, dislocation, political chaos, and starvation, many had no home to return to. Within the American occupation zone, as featured in Bye Bye Germany (Es war einmal in Deutschland in German), interviews of Jewish refugees were conducted to obtain certification that they were eligible for migration to either Palestine or the United States. They then would have to await sponsors before departing. The experience of one group of male German Jews in a Frankfurt camp in 1946 comes to light in the film, in particular David Bermann (played by Moritz Bleibtreu). Bermann persuades several who are living together in the camp to make some money so that they can survive when they arrive in their new home country. As the former operator of a Frankfurt store selling linens, he knows how to import them from Paris, and he trains his colleagues on how to make sales. Some of the film focuses on how they con German purchasers into paying exorbitant prices. But Bermann is not certified to leave because of possible collaboration with Nazis during the war, so he is interviewed about his experience by Special Agent Sara Simon (Antje Traue), a onetime resident of Berlin who left before the Nazi persecution of Jews began. The tale told by Bermann, in short interviews over weeks, appears to be another con job. Meanwhile, filmviewers are exposed to what postwar Germany looked like, including an incident when one of Bermann’s colleagues spots someone on the street who had tortured him. Directed by Sam Garbarski, Jewish humor will provoke laughter during the film, which ends on a sober mood. MH

In 1972, U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles (played Tom Hamm) hosts a lavish party at an estate overlooking Beirut (though filming is in Tangier, Morocco). Suddenly a CIA agent demands to collect his 13-year-old adopted son Karim (Yoau Saian Rosenberg) for questioning in regard to the role of his big brother, Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), in the massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich by the Black September group associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization. (The actual mastermind was Luttif Afif). While Skiles holds off the snatch, Black Septemberists open fire, seize Karim, and even kill Skiles’s wife Nadia (Lelia Bekhti). The film then jumps to 1982, when Skiles is back in the United States, an alcoholic, mediating labor-managements disputes in Boston. But recently Black September has seized former colleague, American diplomat Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), as a hostage. Skiles is persuaded by a large amount of cash to return to Beirut on a pretext that seems so intriguing that he flies to Lebanon, curious to ascertain why. The American embassy, including scheming factions, wants to exchange the hostage for someone, and Skiles has been selected as the negotiator. When he meets those holding the hostage, he discovers that his opposite number is 23-year-old Karim (now Idir Chender), who wants reunion with his older brother Rajal—and very soon. Skiles is an experienced negotiator, so he needs to learn whether the hostage is alive and how to locate Rajal for the exchange. Skiles supposes that Israel is secretly holding Rajal, but negotiation along that avenue proves frustrating, as he learns that Israel is itching to intervene in the country. When Skiles sees Rajal, however, the latter suggests that the Palestine Liberation Organization is holding Rajal, and he proves right. The next thing is to arrange a swap in a city plagued with civil war. Since the plot is not one of those billed as “based on a true story,” one aim of the film is to demonstrate the chaos of the city on the eve of an Israeli attack and an eventual slaughter of American peacekeepers. The spy film’s director, Brad Anderson, may not have the intention of using Beirut as an exemplar of the entire Middle East today, especially the portrayal of perfidious American diplomats, who will discourage decent college students from applying for positions in the U.S. Foreign Service. But that is the impression left, especially during the hostage exchange and the final scene—a duplicitous statement by President Ronald Reagan. MH