"Rabin, The Last Day" by Amos Gitai (ISR)
Venice Film Festival 2015 - Main Competition
Name: Taylor Hess
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was championed as a solider for peace throughout the democratic world; described eventually as a “martyr for peace” by President Bill Clinton. The President endorsed the Oslo Accords that earned Rabin a Noble Peace Prize in 1994, an honor shared jointly with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. But it wasn’t to discuss Rabin’s peace alliance with Arafat that moved Clinton to travel to Tel Aviv on November 5th, 1995. The night before, while leaving a peace rally in the Kings of Israel Square, Rabin was assassinated by a 25-year old Israeli extremist. Clinton arrived at the world leader’s funeral the next day to bury his friend, the martyr, and the world’s greatest hope for Middle Eastern peace.
If there’s any doubt that hope wasn’t lost with Rabin’s death in 1995, it’s not a subject in Amos Gitai’s newest World Premiere at the 72nd Venice Film Festival — Rabin, The Last Day. The film is a detailed telling of the events around Rabin’s assassination and the official investigation conducted by the Shamgar Commission. I say ‘telling of the events’ because, with the exception of several archival footage inserts, little more happens on the screen than legal proceeding enactments, prolonged interviews, and lots of dense dialogue — all of which is made to look like a documentary. Even if Gitai could achieve this style convincingly (which he doesn’t), the film is not a documentary. He particularly misses the mark in one early scene wherein the actors slowly move toward the camera, obviously hitting marks, one after the other, a la Discovery Channel murder mystery reenactments. Subsequent scenes are less over the top, but ineffective nevertheless. With material and subject this bold, it’s a shame the cinematic experience is so flat.
And yet, Gitai doesn’t shy away from what is clearly his own political agenda to formally denounce the right-wing opposition against Rabin and any conspiracy theories about his death. Critically acclaimed in Israel and worldwide for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for his books, exhibitions, and films that grapple with Israel’s history and present identity, Gitai is no stranger to bold and confrontational work. The problem with his recent Premiere is that the 153-minutes of political overload undermines anything otherwise bold and confrontational. The dialogue is often so full of historical fact and reference that if you aren’t previously well versed in the political context, you should prepare for the film by registering for a Middle Eastern policy class. Otherwise, count on feeling intellectually overwhelmed…though, you’re bound to feel cinematically underwhelmed either way.
Almost as if to exaggerate the political onslaught, Nir Alon’s musical score serves as a loud and ominous reminder that since the day of Yizkahk Rabin’s death, Israel has never been the same. In fact, this is the last line of the film, before one of the three Shamgar Commissioners walks into the dark and stormy Tel Aviv night. The rain falls as the camera lens focuses on a row of identical posters featuring gloomy-faced Netanyahu, and Gitai’s final message is the film’s most unmistakable.
It’s been 20 years since Rabin’s assassination. In 2010, on the fifteen-year anniversary of Rabin’s death, Bill Clinton wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times and included an excerpt from Rabin’s 1993 speech on the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles. After seeing the premiere of Rabin, The Last Day in Venice, I read Clinton’s Op-Ed piece, and Rabin’s words couldn’t reflect a more relevant truth during Europe’s refugee crisis today. Gitai’s film may not end on a hopeful note, but I’d like to think that Rabin’s legacy lives on: “Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people — people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you, enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say, ‘Farewell to the arms.’”