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By Phil Hall | January 23, 2008

Daniel Robin’s “My Olympic Summer” is a family history of the filmmaker’s parents during the summer of 1972. Robin’s father was a Jewish chaplain at a U.S. Army base in Germany, and he snagged the opportunity to serve as liaison with the Israeli team participating in the Munich Olympics. Robin’s mother had been increasingly estranged from her husband during that period, to the point of taking a solo trip to Amsterdam.

The film concentrates on a letter and a roll of unexposed film that Robin discovered many years after that summer. The letter was written by Robin’s mother to her husband in early 1972, hinting very broadly that she wanted to end what she considered to be a fraying marriage. The film was from a trip that Mrs. Robin took to Amsterdam, which included provocative footage in a hotel bedroom that suggested the traveling lady was not faithful to her husband.

As luck would have it, Palestinian terrorists saved their marriage: Mr. Robin was among those taken hostage in the Black September raid on the Israeli Olympic delegation. He was released unharmed, but his brief period of captivity solidified his wife’s devotion. The marriage was saved and Robin was born shortly afterwards.

“My Olympic Summer” is touching and offbeat, with a mix of home movies and German TV news footage providing the visuals for that tumultuous period. There’s even a funny sampling of a German-language version of the tune “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (I don’t know how that fits in the story, but it’s melodic enough to warrant inclusion). Oddly, Robin doesn’t offer the narration – someone named M.R. Dhar reads the text.

Robin frames the film against his own failed marriage, citing his personal problems in the opening and closing of the short. That is the film’s big mistake – one story has nothing to do with the other, and the filmmaker’s problems don’t fit into this otherwise engaging production.

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