Monday, July 16, 2012

Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story

Benzion Netanyahu died a few months back which prompted some interest in me about the Netanyahu family, whose three sons include the current Prime Minister of Israel, a doctor/playwright, and a commando who died during the Entebbe Raid in 1976. So, when I saw "Follow Me" playing at the nearly local art house, I dragged the kids down to see it.

And by dragged I mean I told them I was going to see it and they could come along and eat popcorn if they wanted to. The Flower liked it, but The Boy was unmoved. He didn't dislike it but it didn't engage him. Which I understand. This was 35 years ago, and he gets the context even less than I do.

I found this to be an interesting documentary about an interesting guy. There's a bit of paean to it, of course. Yoni Netanyahu finished 13th on a list of "most important Israeli" survey, so you know they love this guy.

He was handsome, smart, charismatic and, perhaps most interestingly to me, if not a natural leader, a leader out of necessity. Israel needed leaders for its impossible experiment. They needed to kick some Arab ass, and kick it decisively, and even when Yoni didn't want to be that guy, Israel needed that guy and he stepped up.

Actually, he stepped up again and again, until he paid the ultimate price.

Some of his writings, say during his teen years in America, struck me as self-important and naive—but then again he was a teen, coming form an embattled land and immersed in the triviality of an American high school in the '60s, where the radical chic must've been sardonically amusing for a guy born in a country locked in an existential struggle from the moment of its creation.

And, too, whatever else you can say about him, you can't say he didn't put up. If he wasn't a natural leader, he was much less a natural soldier, yearning for a more scholarly life. He just had the misfortune to come of age in a time of war, and Israel had the good fortune to have someone whose philosophy didn't allow him to hide.

The movie itself is constructed with two parallel streams, alternating timelines: one from the time of Yoni's birth, and the other in the days leading up to the raid, until they merge at the end of the movie. This gives things a kind of tragic and urgent feel.

I found it quite engaging and touching, especially to see Bibi Netanyahu talk about his big brother, in terms both reverential and melancholic. Benzion is in there, too, and it's impossible to avoid the pathos that comes from any family that suffers a tragic loss.

The movie shies away from any controversy, which I think is good, but I couldn't help but wonder about some aspects of the final raid. At the same time, Yoni was the kind of guy who'd be first on to the plane, so it's not surprising that this is how he met his end.

Still, amazing guy.

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