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Biopic on PM Rabin’s killer stirs controversy

Culture minister to look into removing documentary depicting softer side of Yigal Amir from lineup at Jerusalem film fest

Yigal Amir, appearing in court in 2004. (Yoram Rubin/Flash90/File)
Yigal Amir, appearing in court in 2004. (Yoram Rubin/Flash90/File)

A documentary film offering an intimate look into the prison life of Yigal Amir, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, is to screen at Jerusalem’s upcoming international film festival.

The Israeli-Russian-Latvian co-production is set to compete in the Israeli documentaries category during the July festival in the Cinematheque theater. It was previously screened during the 2015 “Hot Docs” Canadian International Film Festival, garnering generally positive reviews.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who came under fire in recent days over threats to defund “anti-Israel” cultural projects, said Sunday evening that she would establish a committee to review whether the film should be approved for the festival, Channel 2 reported.

The film festival is partly funded by the Culture Ministry.

Depicting the developing relationship between Larissa Trimbobler and Amir — the couple married in prison a decade ago — and the bedtime stories he shares with their son over the phone, “Beyond the Fear” was created by Latvian-Israeli director Herz Frank, who died during the film’s production. It was completed by his wife, Maria Kravchenko.

According to the description on the Canadian festival’s website, the film “pushes past the sensational headlines to probe the human motivations behind the ultimate act of sin. Frank’s final film is an achievement in storytelling that shows not only one man’s capacity for good and evil, but mankind’s.”

Frank, who died in Jerusalem in 2013, is regarded as one of the Soviet Union’s most acclaimed documentary filmmakers, and was one of the founding figures of the Riga School of Poetic Documentary Cinema. He immigrated to Israel in 1992.

Rabin was shot dead on November 4, 1995, by Amir, at the end of a mass pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv. The square where the rally was held was renamed “Rabin Square” following the assassination.

Amir, now 45, is serving a life sentence for the murder and remains in solitary confinement.

The film’s narrative is told primarily through interviews with Trimbobler, who at one point describes Amir’s actions as “naive” and “heroic.” “I saw him as a boy doing it out of desperation. An idealist…who committed a desperate act and sacrificed himself,” she tells the filmmakers.

While stating that the film offers a slanted portrait of Amir, the festival’s selection committee said the decision to include it was more about honoring the director than allowing the prime minister’s assassin screen time.

“’Beyond the Fear’ is the director’s good-bye letter from the landscapes and socio-political spaces that encompassed him since immigrating to Israel,” the committee wrote.

“Our lack of agreement with his outrageous position does not cancel out the cinematic qualities of his long-standing persistence,” it added.

“The film is not devoid of complicated and controversial moral decisions, but we saw great importance in screening a film that stirs acute debate over the borders of representation in documentary films, as it deals with one of Israeli society’s most painful taboos.”

Itzik Shmuli speaks at the Knesset on Wednesday (photo credit: screen capture Itzik Shmuli/Youtube)
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli speaks at the Knesset (screen capture Itzik Shmuli/YouTube)

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli called on Regev and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to remove the film from the festival’s repertoire and ensure its screening does not receive public funding.

“It is inconceivable that someone would have the nerve to authorize a movie attempting to depict the vile murderer Yigal Amir as an idealist hero, and in Jerusalem no less,” Shmuli said in a letter, also demanding that the prime minister intervene on the issue immediately.

Noa Rothman, Rabin’s granddaughter and a TV writer, called the film a “cynical use of the freedom of expression, meant to harm it.”

“I won’t investigate it and I won’t stop it,” she told the Globes business daily, which broke the news of the Jerusalem screening. “But whoever holds democracy dear to his heart, should be afraid of this.”

Rabin served as Israel’s chief of staff during the Six Day War in 1967. He was later ambassador to the US, defense minister and twice prime minister. In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — along with Shimon Peres, then Israel’s foreign minister and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat — for his part in signing the Oslo peace accords a year earlier.

The past week has seen a stormy debate on the limits of artistic expression in Israel, after Education Minister Naftali Bennett ordered his ministry to remove a play inspired by the life of a convicted Palestinian killer from the repertoire of shows offered for performance at Israeli schools. He said that the play, “A Parallel Time,” by the Arab theater Al-Midan in Haifa, glorifies terrorism. It tells the story of Walid Daka, an Arab-Israeli man imprisoned for abducting and murdering Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

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