Arena of Murder (1996): Amos Gitai’s Documentary about Assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

(Zirat Ha’Rezach)

Israeli Docu color

Toronto Film Fest 1996–Amos Gitai’s aptly titled The Arena of Murder is a solid, often moving meditation on the intellectual and emotional climate in Israel, after the assassination of late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in November 1995.

Structured as a journey through Tel-Aviv, Gaza and the Golan Heights, docu interweaves conversations with Rabin’s widow, military commanders, artists and civilians.

Result is a quiet, pensive mosaic-like film, that should appeal to audiences interested in Israel’s turbulent politics. The film will be shown shown in October at the UCLA Film and Television Archives as part of a complete Gitai film retrospective.

Gitai, one of Israel’s most prominent and prolific filmmakers, is a sabra who fought in the l973 Yom Kipur War, during which his helicopter was shot down by the Syrian. This traumatic incident, which he managed to record with a Super-8 camera up until the crash, has obviously left some deep scars–and needs to raise some existential questions about the intensity of everyday life in Israel.

Exploring the country in the post-Rabin era, docu begins with an three-part interview with his dignified widow, Lea, who talks about Rabin’s strong desire for peace and the forces that opposed him. She recalls her late husband’s comfortable, relaxed manner in issues of personal security, a negligence that ultimately cost him his life. But containing her anger, she’s still optimistically hopeful about peace in the Middle East.

A rock concert by Aviv Geffen, Israel’s pop star–and the last person to be embraced by Rabin–is then contrasted with affecting interviews with Uri Simchoni, commander of the paratroop division in the 1973 war, and Avner Hakohen, a lieutenant general, who also shares his memories of that war, which signaled a new chapter in the state’s politics.

What makes the reflexive meditation somewhat more personal is the integration of the filmmaker himself into the collage. Gitai recalls how as an architecture student in the l970s, he felt a strong need to do something “more immediate,” which led to a filmmaking career. Throughout his film, helmer is seen driving and filming modern city life: traffic jems, graffiti that’s mostly political, random but revelatory chats with strangers and friends.

Docu reconstructs the country’s shocking reaction to the assassination just seconds after it was broadcast, and the spontaneous collective support for Rabin’s peace efforts that followed. Actress Hanna Schygulla lends her resonant voice to the reading of some abstract slogans, such as “there’s time to weep, time to laugh and time to mourn.”

As a colorful montage of images and sounds, Arena of Murder is not particularly profound or probing, but it captures effectively the mood of a country at a unique, terribly sad, historical moment.

Cast:

With Lea Rabin, Aviv Geffen, Samuel Calderon, David Cohen, Dalit Kahan, Efratia Gitai, Avner Hacohen, Uri Simchoni.

Credits

Running time: 80 minutes
An Agav Films production.
Produced by Ilan Moscovich.
Executive producer, Amos Gitai.
Directed, written by Gitai.
Camera (color), Jorge Gurevich, Jean-Paul Toraille.
Editor, Oren Medics.
Music, Simon Stockhausen.
Sound, Samuel Cohen, Amos Zipori.

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 7, 1996.