Last week, footage was shot for the film “Le Dernier Jour de Rabin” (“Rabin’s Last Day”). The set turned a spacious hall in the B’nai B’rith House in Tel Aviv into a courtroom. A bench for the three judges was stationed opposite the cameras, and behind it, two Israeli flags and the state symbol gave the scene the requisite official pomp. The hearings of the Shamgar Commission, established to investigate the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, will play a central role in the new film.
Director Amos Gitai explained that the film is meant to be “the commission of inquiry that wasn’t.” Though the Shamgar Commission was a state commission of inquiry, its letter of appointment instructed it to investigate only the operational failures that enabled the murder, not the incitement that led up to it, he said. In his film, he wants to correct this injustice by creating a kind of cinematic commission of inquiry that will investigate the incitement that was then so prevalent.
“In a conversation I had with Meir Shamgar, I told him, ‘Maybe if you had cleaned the stables after the murder, today everything would look different,” Gitai said, referring to the former Supreme Court president who presided over the commission.
Gitai said he decided to make this film because of Israel’s current diplomatic and political situation.
“Looking at the current Israeli reality, it seems the person who sketches out some kind of political alternative to the reality we’re in is the man who died,” Gitai said. “His simplicity, his lack of sophistry, his ability 20 years ago to offer an alternative political thesis – all these could have offered a governmental alternative today. So I decided that I would make this film not as a director, but as a citizen. I think this is a voice that needs to be heard, and I was interested in dissecting what led to this murder.”
Work on the film began about a year and a half ago with extensive research, including a search for documents, tapes, photographs and archival material from both the period that preceded Rabin’s murder and the months after it. Gitai and his staff sought out harsh statements made against Rabin at the time by rabbis, politicians and public figures, who hurled serious accusations at the prime minister, incited against him and thereby, in Gitai’s view, essentially implied that it was permissible to kill him.
The director then compiled all this material and used it as the basis for his film, sticking to the original, authentic wording of what was said at the time.
“Our film is completely factual; it rests entirely on documents,” Gitai said. “For every line spoken in this film, we have the relevant documents with the words as they were originally spoken. The film begins with the murder itself and then unveils the cast of characters: rabbis, the inquiry commission and a long list of public figures who were party to the incitement, but whom then-Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair refused to indict, because he said we have to let them continue inciting under the auspices of freedom of speech.”
Though the entire script is based on things that were really said, the material included in the film is diverse. Alongside the staged scenes that are now being filmed according to the script (which Gitai wrote along with his regular screenwriting partner, Frenchwoman Marie-Jose Sanselme), the director plans to include archival material with speeches by politicians, including Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu and Rehavam Ze’evi.
“There are things with such archival power that it’s neither desirable nor worthwhile to recreate them,” he said. He is also considering including sections of interviews that were videotaped during his research for the film, including interviews with Shamgar, Shimon Peres (who was Rabin’s foreign minister) and Rabin’s sister Rachel Rabin.
Gitai held long conversations with Shamgar, which led to the latter recommending that Gitai be allowed to peruse the full transcript of the Shamgar Commission’s hearings. The State Archives complied, pulling the transcript off the shelf where it had lain for 19 years and allowing the director to read the hundreds of pages that sought to explain how a prime minister was murdered in the heart of Tel Aviv in a city square packed with people.
In the end, Gitai decided to focus in his film on nine of the witnesses who appeared before the commission. They include Ben-Yair; Carmi Gillon, then-Shin Bet security services head; Rabin’s driver, Menachem Damti; Yoram Rubin, head of Rabin’s security detail; and a police officer who was present at the site.
Rabin himself is virtually absent from the film. “The goal isn’t to create a personality cult around him,” Gitai explained.
Gitai said that in contrast to films that have been made about the Kennedy assassination, “This film is being made while we are still in the context of the results of the disappearance of Rabin and his thesis from the political map. We’re still in this volcanic situation. And there’s now a group within the Israeli public that is searching for a new figure who could continue this moderate policy, a policy that emphasized civil rights and political wisdom instead of political arrogance. In my view, this is the crisis we are in now.”