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Cannon Fire

August 30, 1987|Andrea King

After two aborted attempts, Cannon Films' Menahem Golan is off making a movie about Israeli WW II heroine Hannah Senesh.

But all's not going smoothly for "Hannah's War" (working title), which Golan wrote and just began directing in Hungary with a British/Hungarian/Israeli/German cast. The production goes to Israel in November.

Doubts have surfaced already on the accuracy of the project and Golan's ability to direct it.

Reuven Dafni, who parachuted with Senesh (and others attempting to save European Jews) into Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, has expressed concern that the film will not do justice to Senesh's story. (She later infiltrated Hungary and was captured and executed.)

"I'm worried that Golan is directing," says Dafni, vice chairman of Israel's Holocaust archive memorial, Yad Vashem. "I'm not sure he's competent enough of a director to do a film like this."

Dafni also is concerned about "the inaccuracies and absurdities in the script." Said Dafni, "The whole thing is a mess."

For example: "In one scene, Golan has the partisans trying to liberate a trainload full of Jews in Yugoslavia in June, 1944. But there were no Jews left in Yugoslavia at the time. I suggested many changes. I only hope he will make them."

In 1964, when Golan announced a Senesh project to star Susan Strasberg and Maximilian Schell and film in Israel and Yugoslavia, Senesh's mother, Katerina, filed suit in Israel to stop the project.

She claimed that reported German involvement in the film violated the terms of her contract, which specified that no German talent or money would be used. She also claimed the script was written without her consultation and was unfinished and dull.

(Golan acknowledges today that part of the financing and filming was to be done with the aid of German film maker Arthur Brauner, using his studios in Berlin. "It was all a matter of definition," he said. "This was a German-Jewish investment.")

An arbitrator ruled that Golan had indeed violated the terms of the contract and had thereby forfeited his right to make the film.

Later, it was ruled that Senesh's life story, but not her diaries, letters or poems, was in the public domain. So in 1971, Golan again announced plans to make his movie, called "Onika," Senesh's Hungarian name. Mia Farrow was to star and the film, said Golan at the time, would premiere during the 25th anniversary celebration of the State of Israel in 1973.

Israel will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year and Golan said that "Hannah's War"--budgeted at $6 million and starring Dutch actress Maruschka Detmers--will premiere simultaneously in Jerusalem and NYC as part of that celebration.

Said Golan, "It means a lot to me, as an Isreali, a Jew and a film maker to make this movie."

He insists that "Hannah's War" will be "a high-class artistic film," and angrily rejects concerns that the finished product will reflect Cannon's reputation for low-budget action films.

But Giora Senesh, Hannah's 67-year-old brother, who sold Golan the rights to his sister's diaries, poems and letters (and who has the right to ask for script changes), admitted that he remains concerned: "The film should focus on Hannah's personality and how a very assimilated Jewish girl became a Zionist and how a pacifist became a soldier."

He is philosophical: "If it's a good film, it can spread her name and memory. If it's a bad film, give it a few years and someone else will come along and try again."

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