One Day In September


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Current Rating 10/10 | 2 Votes

     When I first heard of this movie, it was with the (no doubt) hundreds of outraged citizens who discovered that the Oscar for Best Documentary had gone not to Buena Vista Social Club, but to some unheard of movie that nobody appeared to have seen. Then the movie was picked up by HBO, and now has been released theatrically. I'm not at all sure that this movie should have won best documentary, but it is a perfectly respectable and well-made film that, at least, was not just another manipulative "Jewish tragedy" documentary picking up the award as a matter of course (e.g., The Last Days).

During the 1972 Munich Olympics, Palestinian terrorists/freedom fighters (depending on which side you belong to) took hostage Israeli athletes and demanded, in exchange for their safe release, the release of 206 Palestinian prisoners. Naturally, things didn't go well from this point on. The ax which Macdonald grinds is, thankfully, not really one against the Palestinians (who certainly had valid reasons for their act, which the movie largely glosses over, such as the horrific detention camps they had to live in), but rather against the German government, whose astounding incompetence in security matters lead to this entirely avoidable catastrophe. This also leads Macdonald back, implicitly, to Holocaust territory, and therfore to winning awards. Sorry if I sound cynical and anti-Semitic (I'm ethnic Jewish), but for the past couple of years the Jewish documentary has always one, regardless of merit (once again, see The Last Days). The publicity for the movie didn't shy away from this connection: it included laudatory quotes from a rabbi of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Elie Wiesel, both of them hardly objective and qualified film critics (I know, I know; neither am I).

Macdonald skillfully goes through the events, creating tension even though the outcome is pre-ordained. Comparisons to Errol Morris (Fast, Cheap And Out Of Control) are unmerited, since Macdonald has absolutely no interest in ambiguity; nor is his cinematography as dazzling and experimental as that of Morris and cinematographer Robert Richardson. Instead, he confines himself to really fast tracking shots. He also decidedly tips the likeability scale to the Israelis, including manipulative wedding photos, an interview with a daughter who never knew her father, etc. Standard stuff. Laudable, however, was his finding of one of the Palestinian hostage-takers for an exclusive interview.

The movie contains some fascinating revelations about the German government and its actions. The movie, however, has one very weak tack: it criticizes the media for making the crisis a news event and spectacle, while simultaneously appropriating the event for a sensational documentary. Overall, though, it's a skilled work, with a terrific soundtrack (Led Zeppelin and Philip Glass, among others).

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