Doco About Rabin's Killer Probe the Human Motivations Behind Ultimate Sin

Controversial film follows daily life of Yigal Amir in prison, delves into relationships with wife and son.

Tomer Noyberg

A new documentary film on Yigal Amir, the murderer of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, will compete in the documentary category at the Jerusalem International Film Festival next month. “Beyond the Fear” (Al Saf Hapahad) is a joint Russian-Latvian-Israeli production that follows the daily life of Amir within the walls of his prison.

The filmmakers followed the prisoner's life for a number of years, and their movie focuses among other things on the relationship between Amir and his wife, Larisa Trembovler, and his connection to his son, which is conducted partly through the bedtime stories he reads to him over the phone from his cell. The film also includes interviews with Trembovler, Amir’s mother Geula, and other relatives.

Amir, 45, is serving a life sentence for murder plus six years for injuring Rabin's bodyguard.

The two filmmakers, Herz Frank and Maria Kravchenko, said they “have been chasing the complicated story of Yigal Amir” for decades. A Soviet documentarist who immigrated to Israel in 1993, where he lived until his death in 2013 at the age of 87, Frank never received proper recognition for his work.

Kravchenko finished the movie after his partner's death, and it premiered at Hot Docs, the prestigious Canadian International Documentary Festival, at the end of April.

“'Beyond the Fear' 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,” according to the program of the Hot Docs festival.

The reviewers who chose the film for competition in the upcoming festival in Jerusalem – which runs from July 9-16 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque – called it an ambitious project filmed over many years in an attempt to provide a different perspective on Rabin’s murder.

Michal Fattal

“The choice of Amir and his family, who are hated and condemned in most parts of Israeli society," they explained, "may have been declaratively tendentious, but a portrait of Frank himself also emerges from it. [He was] a filmmaker and new-old immigrant who never integrated into or was accepted by local society.”

The reviewers called the film a sort of farewell letter from Frank, which relates to the human and political landscape of Israel that surrounded him since he immigrated here.

“Our lack of agreement with the outrageous position of the artist does not invalidate the cinematic value of persisting over a period of many years in order to complete the work,” they added.

After his death, a retrospective of Frank’s movies was screened at the Jerusalem Festival in 2013, and his final work should be seen as part of his overall oeuvre, the reviewers said.

'Painful taboo'

“The film is not free of problematic moral choices that arouse disgust and controversy, but we saw great importance in screening a work that precipitates a fierce debate over the limits of the representation of documentary cinema, when touching on painful taboo issues of Israeli society. More than the film provides a stage for the murderer of the prime minister," they noted, "it sheds light on the film director who did not find his place among us,” they said.

In response, the Jerusalem Cinematheque said: “The perspective that guides the choice of films is first and foremost cinematic. The festival’s role is to provide a platform for the best and most interesting movies of the year, and not to act as a censor of movies on the basis of the issues they deal with. The choice of films screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival does not indicate identification with a position represented by any film.

"Moreover, we think this movie invites complex and open interpretation. The point of departure is that viewing the film does not require identification with its cinematic viewpoint, but actually invites critical examination. The viewers are curious and thinking people, and we believe they will find great interest in this movie, among other reasons because it is actually a work that tries to investigate a fateful event in the history of the country.”

Meanwhile, Ortal Tamam, the niece of Moshe Tamam – the Israel Defense Forces soldier murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, whose life is the basis of the play “A Parallel Time” – said she talked about the new movie to Noa Rothman, Rabin’s granddaughter. (Tamam led the recent protest against the play, performed by the Al-Midan Theater in Haifa, which provoked Education Minister Naftali Bennett to remove it from the from the national “culture basket” of works performed for Israeli schoolchildren and subsidized by the government.)

Tamam said of her conversation with Rothman: “We were both shocked to discover that the film about the despicable murderer Yigal Amir was expected to be shown as part of the official competition of the Jerusalem Film Festival.”

The annual festival, like the Al-Midan Theater, is financed by taxpayers through the Culture and Sports Ministry, Taman said, adding that she told Rothman that during a speech that Tamam is giving at a conference this week, "I intend to call on Israeli artists to stop remaining silent when Israeli government funds are used to provide a stage and express sympathy for despicable murderers who are undermining our existence."