09 Dec 2005 17:37:08 GMT
By Dan Williams
TEL AVIV, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Steven Spielberg faces fierce debate over his film about Israel's retaliation for the Palestinian attack on its team at the Munich Olympics, but the director has at least one fan: the widow of a slain athlete.
Ilana Romano, whose weightlifter husband Yosef was the first Israeli sportsman gunned down during the 1972 guerrilla raid, said she attended an exclusive courtesy screening of "Munich" in Tel Aviv this week along with fellow widow Ankie Spitzer.
An advance copy of the thriller, which opens in the United States on Dec. 23 and in Israel next month, was flown out by its producer Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Tony Kushner.
"They were very nice, and wanted to get across the point to us that the film was made with utmost sensitivity," Romano told Reuters on Friday.
"For me, it was important that the film does no dishonour to the memory of the murdered athletes, nor to the image of the State of Israel. Both my criteria were satisfied," she said.
Though no stranger to tackling highly charged historical events in his films, Spielberg has kept a low profile over Munich. Confidants say the director, recognising the potential for his film to spark controversy, wants it to speak for itself.
Munich tells of the Israeli agents assigned to hunt down and kill the Palestinians suspected of planning the Olympics assault, in which 11 athletes died. With Israel and the Palestinians still locked in conflict 30 years on, it remains a loaded episode.
Spielberg has also hinted that his portrayal of Israel's reprisals tactics would not be entirely flattering and would raise questions about the U.S. "war on terror" since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
SPOOKED BY SOURCES
Veterans of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency came out of the cold to question Spielberg's sourcing after it emerged that Munich was based in part on "Vengeance", a 1984 book drawn from the purported confessions of a former assassin who said he broke rank in protest at the retaliations policy.
"I think it is a tragedy that a person of the stature of Steven Spielberg, who has made such fantastic films, should have based this film on a book that is a falsehood," said David Kimche, a former Mossad deputy director.
Israel has never formally acknowledged responsibility for the series of shootings, explosive booby-traps and cross-border commando raids that killed 10 Palestinians linked to Black September, the group behind the Munich slayings.
The reprisal campaign included the 1973 killing in Norway of a Moroccan waiter mistaken for Black September's leader. Six members of the Israeli hit team were prosecuted for murder, and Israel eventually paid compensation to the victim's family.
Black September mastermind Mohammad Daoud has also questioned the basis for Spielberg's portrayal.
While Romano said Munich contained "historical surprises" -- on which she declined to elaborate, citing reluctance to spoil the film for viewers -- the widow credited Spielberg with fairly exploring Israel's reasons for mounting the reprisal missions.
"At the time, I had no dilemma (about the policy)," she said. "There was simply no other way. The film strengthened this view, for me."Spitzer, whose fencer husband Andrei was killed in a botched German attempt to rescue Israeli athletes taken hostage by Palestinian gunmen, could not be reached for comment.