As the 86-minute documentary “Beyond the Fear” drew to a close, it still wasn’t completely clear why Herz Frank, a renowned Latvian director who lived in Israel for the last twenty years of his life, had made a film about Larissa Trimbobler, the woman who married Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Frank died in 2013, aged 87, before finishing the work. His directing partner, young Russian filmmaker Maria Kravchenko, took over. The film took a total of 10 years to complete, said Kravchenko, during an interview prior to the screening.
The film premiered Wednesday night in Jerusalem, one night before the start of the Jerusalem Film Festival, during which it was initially supposed to be shown. When Culture Minister Miri Regev threatened to pull government funding from the festival and its host, the Jerusalem Cinematheque, if it screened the film as part of the festival, staff decided to show it earlier in order to avoid conflict.
If anything, Kravchenko said, Regev’s stance brought more viewers to the two back-to-back screenings held in the small auditorium of Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim center. The screenings were held at the nearby arts center to avoid unnecessary publicity and to abide by the agreement with Regev to keep the film separate from the partially state-funded Cinematheque. There were no protesters in sight.
Both screenings were sold out, and there was a considerable Russian-speaking population in the audience.
The film, which examines the motives of Trimbobler, a Russian-born Israeli who first met Amir in Riga, Latvia — where he spent some time after his army service as an emissary for his religious Zionist youth group — looks closely at her personal history and her present life as the mother of five, including her youngest, Yinon Amir, her son with Amir.
There are interviews with Trimbobler’s ex-husband, Benjamin, with whom she had her first four children, and archival photos looking back at them as a family. There is a brief interview with Yigal Amir’s parents and brother, Hagai, who assisted him in the Rabin assassination. There are hate-filled comments and diatribes made by the Israeli public about Amir and Trimbobler, as well as the more mixed feelings shared by Trimbobler’s teenage daughter, with her face blurred for protection.
But perhaps the most telling and fascinating parts of the film are Trimbobler’s drives each week on Wednesday to see Amir in prison, who is now being held in the southern town of Mizpe Ramon, with dreamy raindrops falling on the car windshield and the romantic haze of the desert landscape.
There are also poignant clips of Yinon, now eight, his face blurred as well, speaking to his father on the phone, and hearing Amir’s voice on the other end.
The two speak about God, about why Amir is in prison, about those who hate Amir, about Amir’s reasons for killing Rabin. “He was a bad man,” the assassin tells his son.
Trimbobler, for her part, attempts to explain, in Russian, to Herz why she first visited Amir in prison and what drew them together. She fought to marry him and have conjugal visits in order to bear his child.
“Love,” she tells him. “The most basic human connection.”
Frank was always attracted to people on the edge, said Kravchenko, explaining his motivation. “People on the inner edge,” she said, “people between love and life and death.”
With more than 30 films to his credit, Frank’s works often explored the human soul and relationships between people and their surroundings, the tragedy of existence and the fate of mankind, according to Latfilma, a website about the Latvian film industry.
The film’s conversations between Frank and Trimbobler are in Russian, while other sections of the documentary are in Hebrew. It seems that their common cultural identity and language, even though Trimbobler is a practicing Orthodox Jew, was a binding factor.
Frank moved to Israel in 1993 and began working on “Beyond the Fear” around 2005, after Trimbobler had divorced her first husband and announced she wanted to marry Amir.
Kravchenko, who first met Frank during a 2006 master class at her Russian film school, met him again in Israel in 2009, when she immigrated. The producers suggested they work together on the film in order to offer a contrast of age and approach.
She said she wanted to do so. “The hero of the film is a woman, and I’m a woman, and a mother and also Russian,” said Kravchenko, 33, who speaks only Russian and a little Hebrew.
“There was no fear,” she said. “It was probably crazy but we couldn’t stop ourselves from making this film. We couldn’t let it go.”
Near the end of his life, Frank, who acts as a partial narrator, is shown in the hospital, speaking on the phone to Trimbobler. He tells her that he’s in for some tests, that he’s fine, and that he’s feeling good about the film.
“I couldn’t imagine Frank dying,” said Kravchenko, who knew little about Yigal Amir when she began working on the film. “I was fresh, I had no emotional ties to the story.”
When she took over, there was still more shooting that needed to be done, and it was she who made Frank into the narrator. With support from Guntis Trekteris, the Latvian producer, she completed the film and premiered it at the Riga Film Festival last December.
They knew it would be a controversial film for the Israeli audience, and didn’t know if it would be screened in festivals here. What they’ve found is that reactions are more defensive than negative, she said.
Now that the film is on the festival circuit she’s thinking about what’s next.
It’s possible that there could a sequel that looks at how the Amir and Trimbobler story ends, said Kravchenko. “There are moments in the film that could be the beginning of something else.”
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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