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In an old news clip that is played in the documentary Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story, a newscaster says, "You can tell a lot about a people by the rumors they share."
You can also tell a lot about a people by the ways they talk about their heroes—what they leave out, what they emphasize, how many warts, if any, they allow on the portrait. In modern times, it often seems that in order to give the hero his due, we think he must be presented as a near (if not totally) flawless being, with true complexity and layers flattened into an echo chamber extolling only glowing attributes.
Co-directed by Ari Daniel Pinchot (who also directed the award-winning documentary The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg) and screenwriter Jonathan Gruber, Follow Me is a celebration of the life and heroism of Yoni Netanyahu, who was shot and killed in July of 1976 during the now legendary rescue of Israeli hostages being held at an airline terminal in Entebee, Uganda. Their flight from Tel Aviv to Paris had been hijacked by Palestinians demanding the release of imprisoned fellow Palestinians they deemed freedom fighters. Netanyahu's death capped a promising military career he never wanted, and ended his dream of being an academic.
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Follow Me is pure hagiography. In terms of its craftsmanship, it's very state-of-now documentary filmmaking as it intercuts between two narrative tracks: the days and then hours leading up to the rescue, and a look at Yoni's personal life from childhood through his last romantic relationship. There's copious use of home movies, family photos, and archival news footage. Interview subjects include Yoni's aged father, old school and military friends, his ex-wife and last girlfriend, and assorted political figures, including Yoni's brother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But to a person, they paint a picture of Yoni as a near perfect golden boy—beloved by his parents and peers, a patriot willing to squelch his own career desires to fight and possibly die for his country, and such a thoughtful boyfriend that his last girlfriend is still visibly grief-stricken almost forty years after his death.
There are so many complicated political, religious and cultural issues swirling around Yoni's story, but Follow Me keeps them on the sidelines. Referring to the Jerusalem of their childhood, a friend of Yoni's simply calls it "a divided city," while Yoni's letters (read by Marton Csokas) describe an idyllic childhood in which, "There was a great sense of freedom."
The notion of an American Jewish family moving to Israel (which the Netanyahu family did when Yoni was three) and settling in the midst of one of the most volatile political firestorms in modern history is barely examined, even as we get archival footage of young people in mandatory military training, and lots of talk of the importance of protecting one's people. It's context shorn of context, which is obvious no matter where you fall on the issue of Israel and Palestine. And as a result, Follow Me is as much a slick infomercial as it is a heart-tugging eulogy.
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