‘Rabin, The Last Day’: Venice Review

Events surrounding the assassination of Israeli P.M. Yitzak Rabin are dramatically re-enacted 20 years later.

Twenty years ago, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, while the Oslo peace talks with Palestine were in progress, was an event that changed the world. Long but fascinating, director Amos Gitai’s reenactment of the tragedy Rabin, The Last Day is a both a political thriller and a work of conscience that shows Rabin as a just and righteous leader fighting for consensus at home while right wing parties undermine his efforts and extremist religious leaders call for his death. Even as an anniversary tribute, however, it is unsettling in its depiction of the dark underbelly of the country, where a culture of hate paved the way for violence and tragedy. Its bow in Venice competition should be followed by good festival exposure, though at a leisurely running time of 153 minutes, only those sincerely interested in the topic need apply.

Gitai, though an experienced documentarist, is anything but a modernist in the field. Here he adopts the old-fashioned format of the docu-drama, in which newsreel footage is blended into dramatic reconstructions with the intention of blurring the line between the two. It’s an uneasy marriage that creates tension as the viewer constantly tries to sort out the documentary bits from the actors’ able reenactment. For example, one assumes a messily shot scene of police dragging would-be settlers off a construction site is real footage, while the well-shot and dramatically timed work of the state investigation committee is staged. A glimpse of gunman Yigal Amir firing shots at Rabin in the distance seems on-the-spot, while his capture is not.

The Bottom Line

A conscientious political thriller, unnecessarily long but enlightening.

The advantage to this technique is seamless story-telling that builds excitement as it takes the viewer where no camera could really go.  A striking example is a through-the-window shot of the dying Rabin bleeding profusely on the back seat of his car, while his bodyguard desperately attempts to stem the blood pouring out of his wounds. This is soon followed by a scene in the operating room as doctors try to get his heart pumping again.

The film opens on a moving, contemporary interview with Shimon Peres, who was foreign minister in Rabin’s Labor government.  It is followed by a contemplative helicopter view of City Hall on the night of the massive peace rally, when the assassination took place. These opening scenes suggest it’s time to put the dramatic events in some kind of historical perspective. Although the conclusion of the investigating committee is that a lone gunman pulled the trigger on the three fatal shots, the film explores the dark atmosphere of anger and sedition that practically put the gun in his hand.

A particularly chilling scene shows extremist rabbis calling for Rabin’s death in the name of Greater Israel. Their string of ancient curses concludes with pronouncing a Din Rodef against him, a sort of equivalent to the Muslim Fatwa. In another reenactment with more farcical undertones, a batty female psychologist calls for his commitment to a mental asylum. This is the atmosphere in which former law student Yigal Amir concocts his plan to attend the peace rally with a loaded gun. How he manages to evade security and get so close to Rabin’s car remains a mystery.

Much of the film is devoted to the testimony of witnesses in front of a state committee: the police chief and head of the secret services, who pass the buck to each other, Rabin’s shaken driver and his unsuccessful bodyguard. If there was a cover-up, the film shows no evidence for it. Gitai instead insists on the state’s failure to control the hate-mongers who still incite their followers to put a concept of Israel’s manifest destiny above the law and moral codes. Vocal right-wing politicians contributed a lot, like Benjamin Netanyahu (captured on film a number of times calling for more settlements.)

The film benefits from fine technical work throughout, from Eric Gautier‘s sober cinematography to a soulful musical theme by Amit Poznansky.

Production companies: Agav Films, LGM, Les Films Du Worso, Hamon Hafakot, Orange Studio in association with Cinefeel Productions, Le Pacte, Indie Sales, United King Films

Cast: Ischac Hiskiya, Pini Mitelman, Michael Warshaviak, Einat Weizman, Rotem Keinan, Yogev Yefet, Yael Abecassis
Director: Amos Gitai
Screenwriters: Amos Gitai, Marie Jose Sanselme
Producer: Amos Gitai
Director of photography:  Eric Gautier
Production designer: Miguel Merkin
Music: Amit Poznansky
Costumes:  Dany Bar Shay
Editors: Yuval Orr, Tahel Sofer, Isabelle Ingold
Sales Agent: Indie Sales
153 minutes