Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rabin, the Last Day—Investigating the Investigation

If they can turn the 9-11 Commission’s report into a graphic novel, there is no reason why the Shamgar Commission’s inquiry into the Rabin assassination could not credibly be adapted into a docudrama. Arguably, Amos Gitai is both the best and worst filmmaker for the job. Although he makes a point of expanding his scope beyond the Commission’s narrow jurisdiction, his governmental source material remains problematically evident throughout Rabin, the Last Day (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

On November 4, 1995, Yigal Amir gunned down Yitzhak Rabin on what was then known as Kings of Israel Square but would be renamed Rabin Square. Nobody was more surprised than Amir at the ease of his access. The Shamgar Commission was charged with investigating how the considerable state security detail failed so badly. In dramatic recreations, we watch the Commission hear testimony of government miscommunication and incompetence that shouldn’t really surprise anyone. They will also briefly touch on the heated and highly personalized rhetoric aimed at Rabin in the wake of the Oslo accords, but ultimately fell outside their carefully delineated jurisdiction.

Rabin himself only appears in limited archival segments. Bizarrely, the only historical figure given any dramatic space to breathe in the film is the unyielding extremist, Yigal, played with sad-eyed intensity by Yogev Yefet. For obvious reasons, this rather unbalances the film in a decidedly awkward way.

While Gitai’s stylistic approach is often drily clinical, it is never exactly subtle, as demonstrated by his frequent cutaways to scenes of soldiers forcibly evicting Gaza settlers. The demolishment of settlements and the Rabin assassination are linked to an extent (Yigal and his alleged Svengalis were most definitely against the disengagement policy), but they also muddy the waters somewhat.

The title might lead some viewers to expect a Yitzhak Rabin passion play, but Last Day is dispassionate and cerebral to a fault. It even undercuts its own conspiratorial inclinations at times (a case in point being the Attorney General who declined to charge a hardline rabbi for placing a curse on Rabin, basically because it was 1995, not the Dark Ages, and they were in Israel, not Iran). Still, it certainly offers another validation of Hoffer’s True Believer.

As despicable as the assassination was, the specter of subsequent events, such as Arafat’s betrayal of the peace process, the Second Intifada, and the utter and complete failure of the Palestinian Authority to demonstrate the smallest iota of self-governance hang over the film, like Shakespearean ghosts. Indeed, for a film advocating a wider focus of inquiry, Last Day’s feels conspicuously narrow. Recommended only for hardcore Likud critics, Rabin, the Last Day opens this Friday (1/29) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.