Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 02, 2020 12:24 pm 
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A recreation of the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

This is a film about the man who assassinated the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995 and thereby put a great dampener on the Oslo accords. It's a film that brings out its issues in raw, intense, unmitigated form. It's depressing to be immersed this way in what turns tout to be widespread extremism and to be reminded that things have gotten worse, not better, and it's doubtful that anything could ever have been any different. And so the conflict goes on in what Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor at Columbia and America's most distinguished Palestinian spokesman, calls in hihs 2017 book The Hundred Years' War on Palestine.

But while Incitement - the message in the title clear, that the assassin was pushed to his act from many directions - is intense and disturbing, it has little suspense, and not much intellectual substance. It's a heavy dose of mindlessness, and there is no surprise. The details of the film unfold much as they might in a TV series. Fanaticism isn't very interesting. It is scary though, and even, god forgive us, sexy. There is a danger that Zilberman, whose film is based on over five years of research, may through his lead actor be making a criminal too attractive. Zilberman makes every effort to make him dimensional, and up to a point, succeeds in that aim.

Yigal Amir, the fanatic who killed Yitzhak Rabin for making peace with the Palestinians in the Oslo Accords, is played by Yehuda Nahari Halevi, a handsome, dark-skinned, rather Arab-looking actor with a bright smile and flashing eyes. The real Amir (there are many films of him) was also good-looking and dark Eastern Mizrahi Jew, son of Yemeni immigrants, but had hooded eyes and a mouth twisted into a bit of a smirk. This one is so charming he talks a cop out of arresting him at an anti-government demonstration ("I'm about to get married, she'll dump me/ Please, have some mercy!") and we half believe it, even though this doesn't feel like the behavior of any cop we know. Halevi's charisma flows through every scene and is the engine that keeps this sometimes plodding, relentless story alive.

This film tells its story from the assassin Yigal's point of view, often with extreme closeups on his dark face, highlighted the more because of the film' claustrophobic squarish format. But its aim is to show that this young man, a law and computer science student at Bar-Ilan University but also a religious fanatic, was in no way acting alone but part of an intense and highly visible Israeli protest movement that hated Arabs and Palestinians and wanted the downfall of the liberal elements in the Israeli government. They believe all the extreme myths, that revenge is good, that land is sacred, that cooperation with the Arabs is unthinkable.

Right at this time, when the Oslo accords are in all the news - and in Israel the news is always on - a rabid religiionist doctor, Baruch Goldstein, massacres 29 Palestinians while they are at prayer. Yitzhak Rabin publicly condemns this action in the strongest terms (the film using actual footage here as it frequently does), but Yigal goes to Goldstein's funeral, which is alive with supporters, and these include rabbis and members of the Israeli army, the NDF. A little later, Yigal actually hears a rabbi say to his secret supporters that in so many words it's okay to kill Yitzhak Rabin. Eventually he hears many say so. They say Rabin is a "pursuer" and an "informer" and that the Talmud (or alternate traditions) say that means it's a sacred duty to kill him.

In the background it's clear that the country is polarized by the Oslo accords, even more moderate Israelis being bothered by Rabin's concession of returning some lands to the Palestinians. Then the massacres and terrorist attacks get traded back and forth, the bus suicide bombings, and the country is on constant edge.

Meanwhile in the forground (everything condensed and blown up here) Yigal takes Nava (Daniella Kertesz), the young Ashkenazi settler student he wants to marry, to meet his family. We learn this is quite a large gathering, rather cheerier, if perhaps less real, than the ultra orthodox Jerusalem family in the Israeli TV series, "Shtisel." But his mother is frightening in her grandiosity, and seems to scare off Nava, who withdraws in haste, saying she must go study, and won't stay for dinner with all the family apparently brought in to meet her - whereupon we feel the deep anger of Yigal's mother, who announces to his father she is "blacklisting" the girl for this "princess" behavior. But Nava attends a desert retreat Yigal organizes hoping to find sympathizers and cohorts, and he goes and meets her (smaller, whiter) family at a settlement near Ramallah. Eventually Yigal moves on to a more radical settlement girl, Margalit (Sivan Mast) who's sympathetic to his fanaticism.

The killing of Rabin is a tactical affair reliant on practice with arms (in which Yigal again has numerous allies), consideration of methods, and patient penetration of the prime minister's lousy security. Yigal sees his slaughter of the PM (which is anticlimactic in the film, its weakest moment) no ast a political but a religious act. Meanwhile, however, Netanyahu, Rabin's rival, is practically crying for his assassination himself. It's Netanyahu's right extremists who now have long run Israel. So the religious right may have destroyed the hope Rabin represented, his awareness that oppressing a people is (as in South Africa) a morally untenable basis for a nation, but the political right solidified this position.

This movie may appear to be absolving Yigal Amir of guilt for killing the Israeli prime minister, because he was so heavily incited, because the mood was so strong against Rabin's accord signing with the Palestinians. It may revel in the sexiness of the young fanatic, a twenty-something who brags he's like "a laser" in achieving his goals, but would be directionless without his violent mission. But this is an indictment of the nation's right, both religious and secular, for turning things the dark way they have gone. Certainly there is that. But as one watches this film made more austere by lack of a score one sees it as a ritual enactment - if one provided with good observational detail - more than a search for meaning.

Incitement / ימים נוראים‎ (Yamim Noraim," Days of Awe"), 123 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2019, opening theatrically in Israel in Sept. and later receiving Ophirs (Israel's Oscars) for best film and best casting and becoming Israel's Best International Feature Film entry at the Oscars (though not a nominee). Its US theatrical release began Jan. 31 in New York City and Feb. 7 in Los Angeles, to be followed by a rollout in other U.S. cities; Bay Area Mar. 6.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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