Monday, January 25, 2016

Israeli history, writ large: Amos Gitai's mostly recreated narrative doc--RABIN, THE LAST DAY

Probably the best thing TrustMovies can say about RABIN, THE LAST DAY -- the new and, as usual, oddball film from Israeli writer/director Amos Gitai (shown below) -- is that, despite its being over two-and-one-half hours long, it is quietly riveting and thought-provoking from first to last. In fact, its slow, steady pace results in a cumulative power that should easily carry along anyone who cares about Israel as a country and its place in the world situation today. And that, I would imagine, includes just about all of us sentient adults, whatever our feeling may be about the current Israel and Palestine situation.

That current situation is, in fact, alluded to almost immediately as the film begins, with Shimon Peres being interviewed by what appears to be a journalist. I say "appears" because most of the film is made up of recreations of what happened before, during and after the assassination, intercut with actual documentary footage. But so cleverly executed are Gitai's re-enactments that I suggest you not waste time during the film trying to decide which is which, or you will not be able to keep up with what is happening on-screen. During that interview Peres is asked if the state of Israel would be a different place today had the assassination (shown below) of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin not taken place 20 years ago -- just at the moment that what looked like a legitimate peace accord between Israel and Palestine had finally been hammered out. Peres answers yes, and the rest of the movie proceeds to support his assertion.

The recreated deposition scenes (these show one after another of the people who were present and/or involved in the assassination) were made using direct transcripts from the Shamgar Commission that investigated the Prime Minister's death. So these, one might assume, are pretty accurate recreations.

But from where, I wonder, comes one of the most bizarre and entertaining moments in the entire movie? This would be the extended scene (shown below) in which a woman who calls herself a clinical psychologist testifies before a groups of fundamentalist Jews bent on somehow destroying the Prime Minister and informs them that she has diagnosed Rabin as schizophrenic.

I am guessing this scene was created via some testimony given anecdotally, as perhaps were all the scenes featuring a look into the workings of these fundamentalist and right-wing Israeli nut-jobs who allow, as do all fundamentalists -- Christians, Muslims or what-have-you -- their faith in "god" to supersede law, reason and all else. But that's OK, right? Because this is god's law, and we and our religion -- as opposed to everybody else and theirs -- have "his" ear.

Nowhere in the film does Mr. Gitai shout "conspiracy." But he does not need to. From all we see, it is clear that right-wing fundamentalism pervaded every part of society at this time, from the police to elected officials to the crowds of protesters who felt Rabin was giving away their state to "the other." The deposition of the top law enforcement official (along with that of several more "security" people) and his shocking answers to the questions put to him, indicates an attitude that goes beyond mere laxness/sloppy procedure into something much more frightening.

Rabin, the Last Day, along with last year's fine "divorce" film, Gett, offers up an Israel more deeply committed to "god's law" than to man's (and certainly not to women's). If this were not disturbing enough for those of us hoping for humanism and rationality, there is also the lingering question of "What happened to the gun the assassin used?" Oh -- it must have gotten lost in the shuffle is the answer we get from the authorities. The gun question is brought up once and then quickly discarded, but anyone paying attention can only wince in disbelief.

Likewise, the shot of the assassin, alone and praying prior to his deed, will remind us of those perpetrators of our own 9/11 and how "religious" and "in touch with god" they all were. As I say, this movie should keep alert audiences on their toes for its entire 153 minutes. On a negative, but very slight, note: the end credits are shamefully difficult to decipher. Clearly "designed" to be artful and clever rather than readable, they are an embarrassment to the designer and an impediment to the viewer who might care anything about who did what on this movie.

This very hybrid documentary, from Kino Lorber, opens Friday, January 29, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Scottsdale, AZ, at the Harkins Shea 14 on February 4. Other playdates? The distributor is probably awaiting results from these initial venues, followed, we hope, by more and very deserved bookings. We shall see.

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