‘Beyond the Fear’: Jerusalem Review

Beyond the Fear Still - H 2015
Ego Media

Beyond the Fear Still - H 2015

How to marry a murderer.

Controversial documentary about the woman who married one of Israel’s most notorious killers will screen in Jerusalem, despite government pressure to drop it.

A highly contentious entry in this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival, Beyond the Fear paints a carefully non-judgmental portrait of Larisa Trembovler and her husband Yigar Amir, who is currently serving a life sentence for killing former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The slain premier still enjoys JFK-style icon status in Israel, while Amir remains one of the country’s most notorious public enemies. Culture minister Miri Regev even threatened to pull the festival’s state funding if this Israeli-Russian-Latvian co-production screens in Jerusalem next week. JFF organizers have now struck a compromise, moving the film to a separate pre-festival screening, though it remains in competition.

Still unrepentant two decades later, Amir is a devoutly religious right-wing Jew who murdered Rabin as punishment for his Nobel prize-winning efforts to secure peace with the Palestinians. Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Yasser Arafat make fleeting cameos in the archive footage here. But the filmmakers are less concerned with political context than with Trembovler, an Orthodox Jew and Russian émigré to Israel who fell in love with Amir, fought for years to marry him in prison, and is now mother to his young son. Though muddled and elusive at times, Beyond the Fear is an absorbing meditation on the emotional and psychological aftershocks of violent political events. With Mideast tensions constantly in the news, further festival play seems guaranteed, possibly leading to niche distribution and small-screen interest.

Beyond the Fear has a troubled back story of its own. The original director, Herz Frank, left years of work incomplete when he died in 2013, aged 87. It was finished by his young Russian collaborator Maria Kravchenko, who is also credited as editor and screenwriter. A Latvian émigré to Israel, Frank put another convicted killer on camera in his 1988 documentary The Last Judgment, while his 1978 short Ten Minutes Older later inspired a 2002 portmanteau feature project of the same name directed by Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Claire Denis and others. Frank appears in this film as both interviewer and interviewee. His funeral even forms part of the narrative.

Though the filmmakers do not secure direct access to Amir, who has spent most of the last 20 years in solitary confinement, Beyond the Fear does include recordings of tender phone conversations between the killer and his son Yinon that touch on questions of guilt and responsibility. But the story mostly centers on Trembovler and her single-minded mission to marry Amir, leaving behind a husband and four children. Her first husband also consents to be interviewed, generously expressing love and support for his ex-wife. Their teenage daughter, her face blurred for protection, shares her more mixed feelings.

Trembovler herself comes over as a serene, intelligent, devoted wife and mother. The film never fully illuminates her motives in falling for a convicted killer, but competently documents her dogged fight for the right to marry him, then again for irregular conjugal visits. But general attitudes towards the couple, whose love story remains tabloid news in Israel, are still deeply hostile. Street interviews with the public mostly speak of lingering hatred. “Let them hang,” one man shrugs, “she is a whore.” Another says: “No marriage, no children, let him rot in prison.”

Light on historical and factual detail, Beyond the Fear assumes a little too much background knowledge from non-Israeli viewers, and risks further confusion with its non-linear chronology. More journalistic context would have been helpful, though Frank and Kravchenko are clearly aiming for poetic contemplation as much as straight documentary. Their film has a dreamy texture, interweaving archive material and contemporary reportage with gorgeous landscape shots of Israel set to a melancholy, gently imploring score by Karlis Auzans.

Beyond The Fear leaves many questions unanswered, but it is a story worth telling. Nuanced in tone, it neither glorifies nor vilifies Amir, though it perhaps humanizes him a little more than some would like. In any case, the film certainly does not deserve the heavy-handed censorship of the Israeli state, which only seems likely to generate more media interest and political traction than it might otherwise have earned.

Production companies: White River Films, Ego Media, Vertov Real Cinema

Cast: Larisa Trembovler, Herz Frank, Yigar Amir

Directors: Herz Frank, Maria Kravchenko

Screenwriter, editor: Maria Kravchenko

Producer: Guntis Trekteris

Camera: Frank, Kravchenko, Sergey Tsirkin, Israel Freedman, Alexander Gorev

Music: Karlis Auzans

Sales company: Journeyman Pictures

Unrated, 80 minutes