Rabin, The Last Day: Amos Gitai’s Provocative Political Thriller

Although there are many political films in this year’s festival, such as Pablo Trapero’s The Clan, and features inspired by true stories, such as Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, Amos Gitai’s Rabin, The Last Day bears the distinction of being entirely grounded in factuality, blurring the lines between the fiction and non-fiction cinema in unprecedented way.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the celebrated Israeli Prime Minister who, more than any other politician of the era, symbolized the will for lasting peace in the Middle East. In creating a thought-provoking political thriller, which is as much about the past as it is about the present, Gitai skillfully combines staged re-enactments of various events with actual news footage of the shooting and its aftermath.

On the eve of Saturday, November 4, 1995, Rabin was shot down with three bullets at the end of a political rally in a central Tel-Aviv square. The killer, a young (only 25) student and observant Jew, was immediately caught. The investigation into the brutal murder reveals a troubled society and culture defined by numerous religious, ideological and cultural tensions, most of which still exist.

The director was motivated to “dissect what led to Rabin’s murder, and also to depict the aftermath of two decades, during which the prospects of peace have all but vanished with the dream of living a normal life. Gitai says he is “alarmed by the growing exis¬tence of a violent Jewish religious underground in Israeli secular society.” He perceives it as “a disease that could destroy the democratic idea that Israel was founded on as a political endeavor, not a religious one of a long history of suffering by the Jewish people.”

Looking upon the situation from today’s perspective, he has no doubts that “Rabin was the only person who sketched out some kind of viable alter¬native to Israel’s contemporary situation,” based on his charismatic personality and unique approach, whose basic elements were “simplicity, integrity, and direct talk.” Though seemingly quiet and unassuming politician, “he offered an alternative political thesis, that making peace means acknowledging that the “other” exists and should be accounted for, that you cannot make peace uni¬laterally, and this is the radical difference between the Rabin project and the current state of affairs, which is based only on scary power struggles.”

Likely to upset the prominent right wing, whose members joined in a campaign of incitement against Rabin, and the extremist religious sector, the rabbis who condemned Rabin by invoking an obscure Talmudic ruling, the movie reveals a dark, frightening world that made this tragic act possible, what the director sees as “a subculture of hate fueled by hysterical rhetoric, paranoia and intrigue.

At once a loving tribute to Rabin, the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and yet truly polemic, Rabin fulfills the expectations we hold of seriously-minded, emotionally effective political movies. Raising tough questions, likely to provoking heated discussion and debate, it belongs to Gitai’s most interesting films, which include (in my view), Kadosh, Kippur, and the Cannes Fest prize winning Free Zone. Rabin is also deeply personal: “I decided make this film not just as a director, but as an Israeli citizen. I think this is a voice of a memory that needs to be heard.”