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'Rabin, The Last Day' Examines Probe Into Killing Of Israeli Prime Minister

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Amos Gitai, the Israeli filmmaker, has made both documentaries and feature films. And his latest movie, "Rabin, The Last Day," is a hybrid. It's the story of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin two decades ago. It features archival footage of the killing at a political rally in 1995. It includes interviews with Rabin's partner in peacemaking with the Palestinians, Shimon Peres, and with Rabin's widow. But for the most part, it's a dramatization of the inquiry that came after the assassination. Amos Gitai joins us from Tel Aviv. Welcome to the program.

AMOS GITAI: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, what's - what was the motivation for making a movie 20 years after the assassination of Rabin about that event and the inquiry into its causes?

GITAI: I would say, Robert, that this film I did mostly as an Israeli citizen and then just secondary as a filmmaker. I'm concerned about the direction that the country is taking - racist voices, laws which restrict the freedom of speech. And the - in the last two or three years, we started the big research on the roots of the killing of Rabin and essentially about the incitement to kill Rabin.

SIEGEL: Given the task that you're describing, why not do a documentary? Why fictionalize it all in that case if it's really an act - a civic act more than a cinematic one?

GITAI: You know, the investigation was never filmed, so we just had the written documents. Some of the calls by the ultra-right to kill Rabin and the pulsa denura and all the other witchcraft against Rabin was never filmed.

SIEGEL: You mention the pulsa denura. At one point in the film, we hear singing. A camera slowly pans to a small, candlelit room where men in prayer shawls are praying or davening, as one would say, and they're gathered for what's called a pulsa denura ceremony...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RABIN, THE LAST DAY")

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in Hebrew).

SIEGEL: ...Cursing the name of Yitzhak Rabin. This is something you've reconstructed. What's going on in that scene?

GITAI: I mean, there is some sort of cursing which was established in the medieval period against enemies of the nation. These rabbis decree that Rabin is an enemy of the nation. He deserved to be cursed. And they held these ceremonies, these kind of very spooky ceremonies. So in the way, it's - the film is really about the battle between the irrational - the messianic currents - and the rational one. And there is no political solution without the rational, analytical attitude, so the film is putting in conflict these two trends these two currents.

SIEGEL: But Mr. Gitai, it seems that you make it more complicated than that because there's a scene which I found very striking in which a woman psychologist, Dr. Netta (ph). Her full name is not given in the movie, but I gather she was actually a psychologist working in those days. She gives a long-distance diagnosis of Yitzhak Rabin's personality. He's schizoid. He has delusions. And the vocabulary isn't messianic. It's purely modern and entirely psychiatric.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RABIN, THE LAST DAY")

DALIA SHIMKO: (As Psychiatrist, speaking Hebrew).

SIEGEL: You've taken an actual article that she wrote and dramatized her reading from that.

GITAI: Both an article, and also she did a radio interview in which she said exactly what is in the film. You're absolutely right, Robert, of finding it very strange, but these things actually happened.

SIEGEL: In the same film that we hear that woman, the psychologist, describe Rabin as deranged and schizoid, we're confronted with the character of his assassin, as you depict him, Yigal Amir, who is absolutely smug and satisfied with what he's done. He is - shows absolutely no hint of any remorse or guilt for killing the prime minister of his country.

GITAI: Yeah. I mean, this was a big job to work with an actor - Yogev Yefet - to shape the role of the Yigal Amir, the killer of Rabin. On one hand, he said to me, Amos, I have to identify with the character, and on the other hand, I am repulsed by what he did. He really succeeded to derail the entire peace process of the Middle East.

SIEGEL: What he set out to do, he accomplished, you would say.

GITAI: Absolutely.

SIEGEL: What do you say to those who claim that the piece was not lost because Yitzhak Rabin was killed, it was lost in large part because Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinians, could not really deliver enough to satisfy Israel's demands and Israel couldn't give enough to satisfy Arafat?

GITAI: You know, in general, I think that the Middle East is not divided between angels and bastards. I think they're both angels and bastards. And I think that Rabin was killed partially also because the terrorist attacks by Palestinian ultranationalists in the civil hearts of Tel Aviv, you know - I think that these major terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv helped the Israeli extreme right to destabilize the Rabin government, to delegitimize Rabin, if you'd like. So this is the classical coalition of the Middle East of the people who don't want any peace. They don't want any form of that. They just want to go to the next war, and they exist in all sides.

SIEGEL: Amos Gitai, thank you very much for talking with us today.

GITAI: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

SIEGEL: Mr. Gitai - filmmaker - his most recent film is called "Rabin, The Last Day." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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