“Rabin, The Last Day”
I have already reviewed this film but it has had such an affect on me that I decided that I should have another look. For many Israelis (of which I am one), the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 marked a grim turning point for their country. The commission set up to investigate the murder issued this statement, “Israeli society [would] never be the same again. As a democracy, political assassination was not part of our culture.” In the eyes of even more people, the murder ended all hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process through the Oslo Accords and altered the course of history. But, as Amos Gitai sets out to prove in his brave and provocative new film, Rabin’s assassination was not just the act of one fanatic; it was the culmination of a hate campaign that emanated from the rabbis and public figures of Israel’s far right.
The film begins by interviewing Rabin’s comrade Shimon Peres regarding the vilification the two men suffered after Oslo: “Sedition was in the air,” Peres says. Following this is aerial footage of a nighttime rally restaged in Kings of Israel Square (now Rabin Square) in Tel Aviv. The sense of spooky foreboding established by Amit Poznansky’s tense, brooding score is clinched by the sound of three shots and the evocation of chaos that includes a recreation of Rabin bleeding to death as his car speeds toward a hospital that has not even been prepped to expect his arrival.
This becomes a political horror film. After that beginning we move to the investigation, Gitai has staged transcripts of the Shamgar Commission of Inquiry convened to trace the chain of events leading to the assassination and discover security lapses that facilitated Rabin’s death. Interviews have been recreated with witnesses and these are shared with TV reports of the shooting. The police interrogation of the assassin (played with scary conviction by Yogev Yefet) is crosscut with staged shots of the dying Rabin’s arrival at the hospital. To make this disorientation even more effective, Gitai introduces a flashback dramatization of the reading of the Pulsa Dinura (“lashes of fire” in Aramaic), a Haredi rabbinical curse amounting to a ritual fatwa, directed against Rabin.
The organizer of this ritual, apparently modeled on the Russian-born extreme rightwing nationalist Avigdor Eskin, explains that the death curse had only been employed once before and that was against Leon Trotsky (although there is evidence that it has also been applied [if not by Eskin] against archeologists, politicians, and gay activists). There is also a suggestion that the halakhic precept the right of self-defense (din rodef) was also used as a justification for assassinating Rabin.
More suspects appear. We see a group of settlers (all actors) are shown constructing a prefab home on a West Bank hilltop. Meanwhile the assassin gets a prompt at his yeshiva and begins preparations. We then move forward to a lecture, delivered by a Shamgar commission lawyer to one of the commission’s magistrates, on how the West Bank settlements were expanded and this segues into video footage of a mass anti-Rabin rally with the real Benyamin Netanyahu haranguing a crowd calling for “blood and fire” and chanting “death to Rabin.” A staged scene follows this and we see a self-identified psychologist diagnoses Rabin as “a schizophrenic Satanist for the edification (and pleasure) of a rabid rabbinical gathering”. We go back to the commission that is then probing security lapses. The staged transcript allows for a scene of finger pointing and incompetence, as well as the suggestion that the investigation was shut down. News footage of soldiers battling with settlers and the bulldozing of a prefab home sets up another interrogation of the smirking, exultant assassin Amir and the strong suggestion that Israel is on the brink of civil war. (There is a fascinating bit of news footage of an attacker leaping out of a crowd and being wrestled away from Rabin.)
A videotaped press conference allows Rabin to explain his opposition to unilateral withdrawal from Gaza as Netanyahu campaigns for election. In a final staged scene, one of the Shamgar Commission magistrates walks by posters of self-satisfied Bibi. Amos Gitai began making documentaries in the 1970s. He was raised in Haifa but now lives most of the time in Paris. He was an innovative and provocative documentarian in his early career and “Rabin, the Last Day” is chaotic and compelling and is probably the most important film of Gitai’s career.
The film is an experience— a mixture of helpless rage, mounting impatience, and ontological doubt. It is hard not to feel rage while watching this. Gitai does not exactly advance a conspiracy behind Rabin’s assassination but neither does he rule out the possibility of there. He e suggests that Rabin’s murder was overdetermined. Gitai takes a portion of Israeli society— the religious fanatics, the militant settlers, and the nation’s current Likud leadership and puts them on trial for complicity in Rabin’s murder. Everything that we see on the screen is based upon something that was written or said.