Thursday, 17 September 2015
Rabin, the Last Day review – form and structure hamper Israeli PM murder story
Purim. His new film, Rabin, the Last Day, minces no words and charges him as morally culpable for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Not that Netanyahu personally called Rabin a Nazi or carried a coffin in effigy (others did that), but he and his wave of rightwing politics fanned the flames of sedition after the Oslo Accords. A movie with a charge this extreme, and the courtroom scenes that convincingly connect the dots, ought to make for a major international discussion. But that discussion is unlikely to happen, because this isn’t the work of Michael Moore or Oliver Stone. This is Amos Gitai: an iconoclast at times, but an artist first.mos Gitai won’t be receiving any gifts from prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu next
Gitai has chosen stylistic cinema over propaganda, and he is a director who regularly gets bogged down a bit in form. Rabin, the Last Day is no different. It dispenses with a traditional three-act structure or main characters. It opens with a lengthy new interview with Shimon Peres, then blends news footage from 1995 and legal scenes that are almost stage-read with slow, contemplative imagined sequences. It’s essentially a pastiche, a sketch study for a grand painting that never arrives. Some moments are chilling, others are deliberately dull; part of an effort, I believe, to intentionally lull the audience into a somnambulant state for some larger metatextual reason. The end result is frustrating; however, Gitai is so committed to his own process this might even be the goal.
The engaging scenes, it will come as no surprise, involve the moments just after shots are fired as the prime minister left a Tel Aviv peace rally. Bodyguards racing to get Rabin to the hospital are intercut with police processing his killer, the rightwing zealot Yigal Amir. Amir – who, one could cynically argue, perpetrated one of the most effective single acts of violence in recent world politics – is revealed to be proud of his actions. An older interrogator, rich in 20th-century Jewish history, tries to understand his reasoning, but comes up blank in the face of warped religious extremism.
Gitai then weaves in imagined (though likely) scenes from the illegal West Bank settlements; religious colonies where children fondle guns and lecturers work their brethren into a lather. Rabin, who served in the Israel Defence Forces from its inception and led operations during the six-day war before daring to pursue peace with the Palestinians, is accused as a traitor to Zionism, a comrade of Hitler, a cohort of Satan. It is their duty to protect their persecuted race by removing him from power. Gitai dissolves back to actual footage of anti-Rabin rallies, and while it’s the crowd, not the speaker, chanting “Death to Rabin”, the figure with the megaphone is none other than the current prime minister, Netanyahu.
It’s a gut punch to those of us who haven’t given up on peace between Israel and Palestine. What’s unfortunate is Gitai’s refusal to ride this momentum. Each sequence fades to and from black and we’re never sure if the next chapter will be more news footage, a peek at Amir still percolating prior to his crime or the judicial investigation after the fact. The moments from later in the timeline may be of most interest to the policy wonks, but they lack punch on the screen. Much of the time, it’s just people reading depositions from a page. The roaming, lengthy scenes in the settlement and the heartfelt source footage are choices that resonate far better.
Perhaps Gitai was going for a “people of the book” concept, with legal essays replacing Torah passages? If that were the case, maybe my tuning out was just a reflex from my tortuous, force-fed Hebrew school sessions. Nevertheless, there’s enough in this film to interest cinephiles and those drawn to Middle East politics. Anything to get Rabin’s name back on peoples’ lips is good.