Rabin, the Last Day (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): When Israel failed itself

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As with other infamous political assassination incidents, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has devastating historical resonance over its aftermath. Despite the increasingly difficult domestic situation following the Oslo Accord I, which could have been the real first step toward the peace for Israel and Palestine, Rabin tried to handle this tricky problem with admirable bravery and determination till the very last hour of his life, and I wonder whether the current situation between Israel and Palestine might be less troublesome even if he had ended up with humiliating political failure instead of being killed on that shattering day of 1995 November.

After 20 years, Israeli docudrama film “Rabin, the Last Day” looks here and there around the assassination incident as firmly holding itself in its rather cold, clinical approach, and it is often gut-chilling while its big, gloomy picture is being assembled in front of us. We see the infuriating inevitability surrounding the whole circumstance during that time, and then we are indirectly reminded of how things have become quite worse since that regrettable point in the modern history of Israel.

After a long TV interview clip featuring Shimon Peres, who was one of Rabin’s cabinet members, the movie instantly takes us right into Tel-Aviv on November 4th, 1995. During the evening of that day, Rabin came to a rally supporting the Oslo Accord I, which was held at the Kings of Israel Square (this place was renamed Rabin Square after his death). After being surprised and excited by more supports than expected, Rabin went back to his car waiting for him outside the city hall building, and that was when a young Israeli zealot named Yigal Amir shot at Rabin three times. In the following frantic sequence, we see Rabin’s bleeding body being hurriedly taken to a nearby hospital, and then we watch the whole nation being shocked by the news of his death.

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The movie mainly revolves around two contrasting parts. The commission of inquiry is assembled for a more thorough investigation, and various witnesses are summoned one by one and then respectively testify in front of the head of the commission and his two fellow members. Along with two commission lawyers, the commission members are going to look closely upon every detail for their final conclusion, while also making sure that their commission stays in line without any transgression.

In the meantime, a number of disturbing scenes show us the incredulous insanity among some of Rabin’s fanatic detractors. We see a group of fundamentalist rabbis holding an ancient religious ceremony for putting a curse on Rabin. We see young people being influenced by extreme Zionism. We get the glimpses of how Amir came to push himself willingly toward the assassination as one of such young men. The most memorable moment in this part comes from when a psychiatrist is brought into a private meeting held by radical Zionists. Using her twisted rationale which would repel any sane decent person, she argues that Rabin is suffering from schizophrenia and, therefore, he must be removed by any means necessary for the good of their country. Does she truly believe in this outrageous argument? I do not know, but all I can say is that she sells it pretty well to her loony band of audiences even if she does not.

Regardless of how much these scenes are fictional, they do reflect the dark side of the Israeli society which is still affecting the nation at present. Rabin was really hated by those zealous extremists who had been nurtured and overlooked by the Israeli government for its aggressive tactics on Palestine, and, as shown from the disturbing footage clips of real anti-Rabin rallies held during that time, many other right-wing people in Israel were no fan of Rabin either. Labeling him as a traitor who deserves to die, they even compared Rabin and his government to Nazi, and many of his political opponents did not hesitate to exploit this violent political turmoil. Not so surprisingly, the movie does not have anything nice to present in the case of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not even try to quench the smoldering hatred among many of his and his party’s supporters while indirectly endorsing seditions just for his political advantage over Rabin.

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As the commission continues its investigation, it gradually becomes clear to us that everything was bound to culminate into that tragic moment sooner or later – and that it could have been avoided if things went a little different at that point. Although he was not afraid of death threats, Rabin should have worn a bulletproof vest as advised. If the police and the internal security service had been more careful and watchful, they might have noticed Amir in advance. If Rabin’s bodyguard and driver had been a bit swifter in their response, Rabin might have survived the shooting. Later in the film, Amir tells his police interrogator that he was surprised by how he managed to approach to his target so easily and so close like that, and this incorrigible lad does not seem to grasp at all what he has done, while so blind in his smug, self-righteous attitude which makes his no-nonsense interrogator shake his head in disbelief and disgust. Amir was indeed a mere lone gunman, but, alas, that was more than enough to blow away a golden opportunity for both Israel and Palestine.

While many scenes in the movie feel theatrical as lines are flatly delivered, the cast members give convincing performances as the cinematographer Eric Gautier’s camera calmly observed them via long, steady shots, and the director Amos Gitai, who wrote the screenplay with Marie-Jose Sanselme, keeps engaging us as constantly maintaining the level of subtle tension throughout the film. It is the testament to Gitai’s talent that I was seldom bored during its long running time (153 min), though I also felt disoriented and distant at times as trying to process and gather its seemingly random pieces hurled at me and a few other audiences at the 2016 Jeonju International Film Festival. Although it will surely demand your brain to be more active than usual during your viewing, the movie is worthwhile to watch for its commendable direction and performances besides its relevant political subjects.

During the screening, Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers” (2012) came to my mind. In that memorable Israeli documentary I recommend you to see in advance for more understanding of Gitai’s film, all of the interviewees who once served as the directors of the Israeli internal security service agree that there should be changes in their country’s policies for avoiding its possible bleak future. “Rabin, the Last Day” agrees to that as arriving in its quiet but stern conclusion, but it also has reasonable skepticism, and we naturally come to wonder whether things will ever get better, even though there is still the possibility of hope and peace remained out there.

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