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Thursday February 22nd 2024

Munich | 2005

A below-the-radar team of specialists, recruited by Mossad to avenge the Black September terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, gradually disintegrates, in Steven Spielberg’s film of George Jonas’s book, Vengeance.

It certainly doesn’t show, but the film was completed – from start of shooting to release – in a mere six months. With amazing efficiency, the apparently globetrotting production was filmed almost entirely on the island of Malta (generally used for the Middle East and Mediterranean scenes) and in Hungary (supplying European cities).

The film opens with a reconstruction of the attack on the ‘Munich’ Olympic compound, as a group of athletes unwittingly help the Black September group gain access to the site. Budapest.’s Puskás Ferenc Stadium (Puskás Ferenc Stadion) in Hungary, stands in for the Olympic stadium.

Although opened, in 1953 on the Pest side of the capital between Stadionok and Keleti Palyaudvar metro stations, Puskás Ferenc has been used mainly for football matches. It’s due to be replaced, and was scheduled to be demolished sometime in 2012.

The subsequent attempted rescue of the hostages, which goes tragically awry, at ‘Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base’, was filmed at Tököl Airport, at Halásztelek on the Danube, a few miles south of Budapest itself. The one-time military airfield, now largely deserted, was also used by Tony Scott as the 'Chinese' prison in2001 thriller Spy Game.

For the reaction in ‘Israel’, it’s off to the sunnier clime of Malta.

Bugibba, a seafront town on the island’s northern coast, supplied the ‘Israeli’ cafe where the unfolding news story is watched on TV.

A few miles to the east, Tower Road, on the waterfront at Sliema becomes the promenade of ‘Tel Aviv’ as the mysterious operative Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) informs Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) he’s the team leader, and fills him in on the barest details of his mission to kill the Black September terrorists.

Also in Malta, a slew of private homes provided the seven different safe houses, the homes of Avner himself and of Avner's father, the apartment of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir as well as the modern-style glass-walled villa of the Black September organiser, Salameh, in ‘Spain’.

In ‘Rome’, Avner’s friend Andreas (Moritz Bleibtreu) introduces him to a contact who can provide names and whereabouts. The terrace cafe is on Republic Square in front of the National Library, in Valetta, the capital of Malta.

Supposedly still in ‘Rome’, it’s to Budapest for the shooting of the first target, who’s living as a poet, which takes place around Andrassy Boulevard – that’s the dome of the city’s St Stephen’s Cathedral looming over the apartment.

But the ‘Roman’ piazza in which the team meets up to celebrate, is in front of St Paul’s Church, Rabat in the west of Malta.

For a few minutes it’s the real Paris, as Avner meets up with Louis (Mathieu Amalric) part of a shadowy and anarchic organisation impartially offering help to non-government activists. The vegetable market is held on the Pont de Bir Hakeim, crossing the Seine to the Passy district. This is, of course, the double-decker bridge conjured up by Ariadne in Inception. It’s also featured in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris – in fact, the building behind Avner and Louis is Marlon Brando’s apartment in that film.

It’s not Paris for long, though. When the team plants a bomb in the telephone of the next victim, the ‘Parisian boulevard’ is Aulich Street at Bathory Street, in Budapest – just a few blocks north of the ‘Rome’ killing.

The resulting explosion is seriously underpowered, and it’s decided to increase the explosive strength for the next kill, which is to take place in ‘Cyprus’. This time the bomb is planted under the target’s bed, with Avner riskily renting the room next door. The ‘Olympic Hotel’ is the Primera Hotel, Pioneer Road, back in Bugibba.

The ‘Beirut’ dockside, where three targets are dispatched with the aid of an extra team disguised in drag, after an almighty shoot-out, is the old dock at Cospicua, (also called Bormla), the fortified harbour on the east side of Valletta.

The attacks seem to be increasingly less smooth. In ‘Athens’, the bomb in a TV set malfunctions completely and Hans recklessly rushes into the hotel to trigger the explosion with a hand grenade. The ‘Aristides Hotel’ is the British Hotel, 40 Battery Street in Valletta.

Red buses, black cabs and plenty of rain turn Budapest into ‘London’, as a bunch of apparently drunken Americans – who just might be CIA – disrupt the attempt to take out the mission’s main target, Salameh.

In the ‘London’ hotel’s bar, Avner avoids the obvious ‘honey trap’, but Carl (Ciaran Hinds) gives in and pays the price when she turns out to be a freelance assassin. The hotel is actually the Marriott Budapest Hotel, Budapest Apáczai Csere János Street 4.

With Salameh escaping the raid on his ‘Spanish’ estate, and two more of the team killed, and Avner eaten up with doubt, he returns to live with his wife in the USA. Their Brooklyn home is 259 Clermont Avenue at DeKalb Avenue in the Fort Greene district.

Disillusioned and fearful for the safety of his family, Avner refuses further missions. He has one last meeting with Ephraim on the East River waterfront at Gantry Plaza State Park, 4-74 48th Avenue, in Long Island City. You can see the park again, and its distinctive Pepsi Cola sign, in Sydney Pollack’s 2005 The Interpreter, with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman.