Film: Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story (2012)
Cast includes: Yoni Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu
Director: Jonathan Gruber (Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray)
Genre: Documentary (90 minutes)
Entebbe, Uganda: July 1976. Amid black smoke, predawn darkness and chaos, no one knows what's happened to the hostages or the Israeli commandos. In Yoni Netanyahu's own words, he tells us, "I must feel certain that not only at the moment of my death shall I be able to account for the time I have lived. I ought to be ready at every moment of my life... " Yoni was the oldest of the three Netanyahu brothers... the middle being Benjamin, Israel's current Prime Minister. Yoni was just a baby when his family immigrated to Israel from the U.S. in 1947. Jerusalem was a small town back then, and the three brothers grew up playing in the fields around the house, where Yoni developed his love of the desert. Yoni was always the leader of the pack... never afraid of taking risks. When Yoni was 16, the family moved back to the U.S., where Yoni complained, "there is no air to breath." After high school, Yoni returned to Israel to fulfill his army service. After a stint at Harvard, Yoni returned to Israel to join the army again.
In the 1960s, people communicated through letters, and Yoni was a prolific letter writer. It's his letters that tell most of the film's narrative... alternated with interviews. Everyone agrees that Yoni was charismatic. But he wasn't always popular. He was demanding and never afraid to push those around him. The film goes back and forth between Yoni's life and the weeklong hostage drama in Entebbe. On June 27, 1976 an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked and diverted to Uganda, 4,000 km away. The hijackers wanted to exchange the 248 passengers for 40 Palestinian prisoners. But Israel had a firm policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Eventually, the hostages were divided and the non-Jews released... leaving just over 100... the deadline was extended. It gave the Israelis just 4 days to plan a rescue. Yoni not only led the primary assault unit, he was one of the planners. The plan wasn't actually approved until their plane was about to touch down in Entebbe. "Move, move, move... don't stop!" Yoni wasn't the kind of leader who sent his troops ahead. He always took the lead.
Although the rescue operation was historic and unprecedented, the film doesn't go into great depth on the mission itself. It's mostly a very personal story about Yoni and his relationships with others. While his story is interesting, many moviegoers would probably be more interested in the mission itself... which has already been the subject of 3 previous 1970s-era movies and several other dramatizations, including a video game. (One wonders if it isn't time for a remake of the Entebbe story.) One of the nicest parts of the movie is Yoni's writing. As a Harvard educated poetry lover, he beautifully captured his love of Israel, as well as many conflicted emotions. He laments, "the sadness of young men destine to serve in endless war."
2 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
In 1976 Yoni Netanyahu led a team of Israeli commandos on a daring predawn mission to rescue hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Amateur video
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative
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