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One Day in September (1999)
One Day in September is a 1999 documentary film directed by Kevin Macdonald examining the 5 September 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Michael Douglas provides the sparse narration throughout the film. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2000. The documentary begins with an advertisement by the Munich Tourism Bureau with a beautiful young girl inviting the world to visit the city for the Olympics, then shows interviews with the wives of some of the murdered athletes, including Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer. The film also features the first known filmed interview with Jamal Al-Gashey, allegedly the only surviving terrorist. Al-Gashey, who is in hiding in Africa, wears a cap and sunglasses and his face is slightly blurred. There are various shots of the Games getting under way, and attention is given to the lax security the Germans had at the Games. The terrorists are seen preparing for the assault; Al-Gashey claims that he and the other members were trained in Libya before going to West Germany to begin the assault.
The film starts off on a personal note: Ankie Spitzer, a widow of one of the Israeli athletes kept as a hostage, recalls their happy marriage and anticipation of coming to the Olympic games. Giving the tragedy a human face underlines the message of the film: At the core of every political game, human life and death are nothing more than a by-product of political cruelty. Objectively, it gives a succinct summary of why the 1972 Olympics, besides being as political as Olympic Games always are, were so particularly important to both Germans and Israelis. Subjectively, and understandably so, the film is pro-Israeli: If members of Israeli team are presented as exemplary citizens -- young, ambitions, with families and babies -- Palestinians are shown receiving training in violence, hiding as Zionist refugees in Lebanon and Libya, carrying out their terrorist acts with anonymous brutality (as they don't even know the target of their attack until very late). Thus, in addition and perhaps without realizing it, the film exemplifies why cinema is such a powerful and dangerous medium; One Day in September is an adroitly constructed yet highly manipulative film.
Once the film gets to its point by recreating the actual events that took place on the day of the attack, September 5, 1972, it tries to create suspense by applying slow motion shots and stirring music score punctuated with pounding sounds of a heart beat. This technique is powerful and gripping, but the real achievement of the film is in its detailed reconstruction of the events that led to the atrocity. It is almost impossible to believe how it was all allowed to happen -- in a small apartment in the Olympic Village nine athletes were held hostage, one was killed and another was left to bleed to death, but the festival of sport continued as if nothing happened. Debunking the idea of the Olympic Games as a festive celebration in peace and harmony, the filmmakers describe step-by-step how, in the middle of public and media attention, German officials absolved themselves from the terrorist attack and resumed the competition. The film then details exactly how the police, lacking an anti-terrorist squad, proper security, and turning down help from the Israelis, ignominiously failed to save hostages by attempting to carry out an ill-conceived maneuver. The result of this drama is devastating and ghastly.
Despite the fact that One Day in September might upset a lot of people for being manipulative and one-sided, this historical account is shocking, jarring, and unequivocally worth seeing.
One long day.