Forty years ago, Israeli commando forces carried out one of the most storied hostage-rescue missions of the century. The year was 1976, with the saga beginning when an Air France flight bound from Tel Aviv to Paris was overtaken by terrorists and diverted to Uganda. The Ugandan government supported the hijackers, and dictator Idi Amin personally welcomed them. The hijackers had the stated objective to free Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israel in exchange for the hostages. Entebbe, sometimes titled 7 Days in Entebbe on the festival circuit, recounts the story.
The new international production starring Daniel Brühl (Good Bye Lenin!) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) is directed by José Padilha, the Brazilian behind the international hit film Elite Squad (2007) and one of the producers behind Netflix series Narcos (2015-2017) and The Mechanism (2018-).
Cinematographer Lula Carvalho ABC ACS — who was nominated in 2018 for the Golden Frog at Camerimage for his work on Padilha’s Elite Squad — has shot Entebbe with mastery and deft. The cinematographer seemingly blends brutal realism with a kind of dreamlike aesthetic. At times, Entebbe feels realistic and grounded, but at other times it feels more fantastical and distanced from reality.
Carvalho evokesa bleach-bypass technique to desaturate the image, but also to let the light sources bleed over into the darker parts of the image. Light sources start to glow and backlighting (a classic Janusz Kamiński ASC technique) drowns the foreground subjects in shafts of soft lightning. It feels more romantic and dreamlike than it feels realistic.
The film opens on the stage of a theatre, as members of the Batsheva Dance Company perform Ohad Naharin’s ‘Echad Mi Yodea’. With its bold percussion and rousing melody providing a driving rhythm, Padilha and Carvalho come back to the dancers throughout the film, including with parallel editing during a climactic rescue.
After Padilha and Carvalho’s 2008 Golden Bear-winning Elite Squad, its excellent 2010 sequel and their 2014 remake of Paul Verhoeven’s authoritarian classic RoboCop, the Brazilian director/cinematographer duo have been no stranger to the themes of ‘fascism. But with Entebbe, the pair pull punches to an enervating degree, somewhat timorously locating the majority of the film’s actual conflict within the individual factions, as opposed to between them. The film’s axis of sympathy runs between those who are willing to kill (or let-be-killed) for their principles, and those who are not. It’s an ingenious way of avoiding the political landmines that dot this contested territory.
Several films have already been made about the historical incident, which also features in such biopics as The Last King of Scotland (2006) and the outstanding Carlos (2010). Within a year of the actual incident in 1976, no fewer than three movies about the raid were released. In Raid on Entebbe (1976, cinematography by Bill Butler ASC) Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister, was played by Peter Finch. If you prefer Burt Lancaster as Shimon Peres, Israel’s defence minister, along with Kirk Douglas and Elizabeth Taylor, you could opt for Victory at Entebbe (1976, cinematography by Jim Kilgore). The incident was then largely forgotten on film. Until now.
Entebbe is timely, poignant and well worthy of of it’s weighty subject matter. And as much as anything, it confirms Carvalho as a cinematographer who’s worth the price of admission on his own. It’s rare for genre films to look this good and to provide thrills this potent, but Padilha and Carvalho manage both. The result is a film that takes on a intense, yet intelligent quality. For a film about terrorism, the cinematography simply creates a space for it’s story to exist.
‘Spotlight on Brazil’ is a initiative from Australian Cinematographer Magazine in association with the Associação Brasileira de Cinematografia (ABC).
James Cunningham is the Editor of Australian Cinematographer Magazine.