On November 4, 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at the conclusion of a major peace rally in Tel Aviv. Israeli auteur Amos Gitai explores what led to, and followed, the tragedy in the tense and gripping Rabin, the Last Day. Gitai and cowriter Marie-José Sanselme combine archival footage of news reports, press conferences, political rallies, and public speeches with extensively researched re-created scenes of the killer, Yigal Amir (Yogev Yefet), loading his gun and, afterward, being interrogated, showing no remorse; of the Shamgar Commission, which conducted hearings to find out what went wrong with security and whether there was some kind of conspiracy; and of a small group of Israelis establishing a tiny settlement in Gaza. The film plays out like a procedural thriller with flashbacks as a radical right-wing rabbi tells his congregation that Rabin, who had signed the Oslo Accords and was negotiating with Yasser Arafat and the PLO about ceding parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to the Palestinians, is subject to the Talmudic concept of din rodef (“the case of the pursuer”), marking the Nobel Peace Prize recipient for death; a psychiatrist (Dalia Shimko) declares that Rabin must be schizophrenic because of the decisions he is making; and a police officer (Gdalya Besser) gives information to a hungry press. Meanwhile, the Shamgar Commission chairman (Yitzhak Hiskiya) and two members (Pini Mittelman and Michael Warshaviak) question Rabin’s driver (Tomer Sisley) and bodyguard (Eldad Prywes), the director of the hospital (Tomer Russo) where Rabin was brought after the shooting, the intelligence officer (Shalom Shmuelov) in charge of security, and others as they attempt to uncover every detail of the horrific event to see if anything could have been done differently — and whether more people than just Amir were involved. However, when the name of GSS agent Avishai Raviv is raised, two commission lawyers (Ronen Keinan and Einat Weizman) suddenly stop the proceedings, declaring that anything relating to the secret operative is classified. Perhaps most frightening is the footage of rallies — led by then-Likud leader and now Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — in which participants chant “Death to Rabin!” and hold up signs depicting Rabin dressed as a Nazi and as Arafat.
Gitai, who served in a rescue unit during the Yom Kippur War and has made such other political, often controversial films as Kippur, Kadosh, Kedma, and the Border Trilogy (Promised Land, Free Zone, Disengagement), is not only seeking to uncover the truth of what led to the assassination but is also warning us that something like this can happen again, as all the elements are in place once more, and not only in Israel. It is almost impossible to watch the film without thinking about the growing hate speech in the United States in our national conversation about immigrants, Muslims, refugees, and building walls, all while more and more people, and small militias arm themselves and have less and less respect for the presidency. Gitai and cinematographer Eric Gautier (Into the Wild, The Motorcycle Diaries) move the camera very slowly, zooming in on the characters’ faces as they ask questions and give answers. The steady pace creates a tense atmosphere as scenes fade out to give viewers time to process what they’ve just witnessed. Editors Yuval Orr, Tahel Sofer, and Isabelle Ingold seamlessly weave the archival footage into the re-creations, making it difficult to sometimes know whether we are watching something real or restaged. But Gitai asserts that every single word spoken in the film is “completely factual,” that everything that is said has been taken directly from existing documentation. There is no omniscient third-person narration, no screen text or intertitles stating statistics. And to further the reality behind the film, Leah Rabin, the prime minister’s widow, and Shimon Peres, who was Rabin’s foreign minister in 1995 and won the Nobel Peace Prize along with the prime minister and Arafat (before becoming president of Israel in 2007), both speak with Gitai on camera. Could something like this indeed happen again in a democratic nation? Rabin, the Last Day essentially wonders why it hasn’t already.