There were no stormy protests in Jerusalem last Wednesday night when the controversial film “Beyond the Fear” — a documentary about the killer of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — was screened in a sketchy auditorium. Outside the building someone placed a small, handwritten sign: “Even the most despicable murderers loved their children and their wives.”
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After weeks in which everyone was talking about the film but hardly anyone had actually seen it, the audience was finally given an opportunity to watch the film about Yigal Amir and the woman who married him. Even though the movie was screened beyond the pale, so to speak, a day before the Jerusalem Film Festival opened, and in an obscure venue, it was hard to find an empty seat. The tickets were sold out two days earlier. The crusade against the film, led by Culture Minister Miri Regev and supported by others from both the right and left, succeeded not surprisingly in achieving just the opposite of what they set out to do. Curiosity caused the public to pounce on the tickets .
“Beyond the Fear” was filmed over the course of 10 years. Ten long years during which Hertz Frank, the esteemed Latvian documentary filmmaker who lived in disturbing anonymity in Jerusalem for 20 years, followed Larissa Trimbobler, the woman who falls in love with and marries Rabin’s killer. Frank persuaded Trimbobler, whom the whole country loved to hate, to trust him and give herself over to his camera.
In the film she speaks to him and to his partner in directing, Maria Kravchenko (who completed the work after Frank died in 2013). She answers their questions, talks about herself and tries to explain how it happened that a woman like her – an academic, educated, married mother of four – fell in love one fine day with Yigal Amir, the man who had murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It is precisely this issue, which seems to have been the biggest mystery Frank was trying to crack, that the film does not succeed in examining satisfactorily .
The important thing that this film does manage to do, however, and the reason the title the filmmakers chose is successful is this: It reflects and emphasizes the extent to which the public’s attitude toward Amir and Trimbobler is colored by a prism of hatred and fear, and the extent to which this prism has made the discussion shallow. Nearly 20 years after the despicable murder Amir committed, the film helps viewers see how the newspaper headlines relate to him and his wife in demonic terms and how politicians and citizens propose denying them basic rights. This is also what was done in recent weeks by Miri Regev, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog and former president Shimon Peres, who wanted to shelve the film and thereby preserve the demonic image of Amir and Trimbobler instead of grappling with the fact that they are flesh and blood people who also have softer and gentler sides.
However, Frank and Kravchenko wanted to get to the edge of the fear, to look beyond the monstrous and terrifying and to see the more complex, multi-dimensional picture. And they managed to accomplish this largely thanks to the presence in the film of Amir and Trimbobler’s son, a sweet and curious child who does not hesitate to ask questions about the complex situation in which he finds himself through no fault of his own.
Yigal tells bedtime stories
In the phone conversations between him and his father, which are the strongest scenes in the film, the son asks his father if he wanted to be in prison, when he will be released and whether the prison guards and the police are the baddies in this story. The person who cold-bloodedly assassinated the prime minister of Israel answers him patiently, tenderly and with love and also tells him bedtime stories.
Almost a typical father. But from time to time beneath the gentle fatherly tone bloodcurdling stories creep in, causing the imagination to leap. Such, for example, is the story he tells about Gideon, who is informed by God’s angel that he is he one who can save the nation of Israel from the Midianites, sends him to destroy them and promises that God will be at his side. For Miri Regev’s information: It is precisely this complex, human and therefore unexpected figure who ends up being far scarier than the one-dimensional monster.
Yet beyond this, the figures of Amir and Trimbobler, even if they are more complex than what we had assumed, are not really interesting. Amir does not surprise us with fascinating content and Trimbobler, despite the many interviews with her, does not manage to elicit any real emotion, neither from herself nor from the viewers (except perhaps for one sentence in which she wonders whether her children will pay too heavy a price for her choices).
Frank, who, in other films, managed to elicit moving confessions from his subjects and, with an artist’s hand, brought what happens in their souls to the screen – for example in “The Last Judgment” and “Ten Minutes Older” – failed to achieve that here. There is no way of knowing whether he or Kravchenko is responsible for that, but of course it doesn’t really matter. Moreover, the poetic style that was effective in his earlier films often seems to be forced here, sometimes on the verge of mannerisms.
Nevertheless, “Beyond the Fear” succeeds in stimulating thought, in encouraging a reflective look at the way Israeli society relates to the extremists who threaten it and especially in bringing into sharper focus the tragedy in the fact that the innocent and the blameless sometimes have to pay a high price for the sins of others. The blurring of the boy’s face and that of one of Trimbobler’s daughters from her previous marriage, only emphasize the unbearably high price the two children are paying, and will continue to pay, for their parents’ deeds and choices.
In the last scene of the film the boy tells his father about his visit to the Western Wall and about the two notes he inserted into its cracks. In one, he asked for the Messiah to come and in the other for his father to get out of prison. The final shot, a bird’s-eye view of the Wall, is reminiscent of one of Frank’s earlier films, “Man of the Wall,” in which he followed a nave and homeless Breslav disciple who spends his days in prayer and in worshipping God in the environs of he Western Wall. This time, in the context of Yigal Amir, the long look at this holy site emphasizes not only the fanatical obsessiveness it succeeds in creating in many souls but also the murderous and dangerous zealotry it elicits from people who are extremists. And in the final scene, it is this fear that continues to hover and haunt the viewer.