'Incitement': Film Review | TIFF 2019

Courtesy of TIFF
A timely, disturbing portrait of a killer.

This drama scrutinizes the background of the young Orthodox student who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

A rare look into the mind of an assassin, Incitement provokes and disturbs. This TIFF world premiere tells the story of Yigal Amir, the young law student who killed Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, dooming the peace process that the Israeli prime minister had sought to implement and changing the history of the Middle East. This will be a challenging film to entice audiences to see, but it seems especially timely in an era of growing fanaticism and hatred.

Several years ago, director Yaron Zilberman made A Late Quartet, a thoughtful film about the disbanding of a distinguished string quartet, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken and Mark Ivanir. His new film, written with Ron Leshem, is edgier and more difficult but confirms that he is a director to watch.

When we first meet Yigal (well played by Yehuda Nahari Halevi), he seems to be going through many of the difficulties that would plague college students anywhere in the world. He is experiencing conflicts with his parents, struggling to keep up with his studies, trying to cement his relationship with a girlfriend (Daniella Kertesz) who is not quite as committed as he is. There are suggestions that her Ashkenazi family feels that Yemenite Israelis are inferior to those from European backgrounds, but this intriguing theme might have been more fully developed. We do know that sexual rejection plays a role in motivating some young men to become killers, but this idea remains too sketchy in Zilberman’s film.

By far the most important incitement to the assassination is the indirect encouragement Yigal receives from Orthodox rabbis and scholars who argue that murder and revenge can be justified. The film cogently recalls other events that were taking place in Israel during this contentious period. Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli, killed 29 Palestinians worshiping at a mosque and wounded 125 others. In the aftermath of this slaughter, the number of suicide bombings against Jewish citizens increased.

The film does a remarkable job of integrating newsreel footage with staged scenes, following the style of earlier movies like Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which seamlessly introduced Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche into newsreel scenes of the Russian invasion of Prague in the summer of 1968. In Incitement, we see Yigal at the site of deadly suicide bombings and also at a rally held by upstart politician Benjamin Netanyahu, a fierce opponent of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords that Rabin had been instrumental in implementing.

This scene proves to be especially disturbing in the age of Trump. When angry Orthodox thugs chant “Death to Rabin” during Netanyahu’s rally, we cannot help thinking of the assassin in El Paso, Texas, motivated by the Trump administration’s demonization of Hispanic “invaders” and of the shrieks of “Send her back!” during one of Donald Trump’s recent rallies. Newsreel footage shows that Trump did nothing to discourage these vicious, racist chants, just as Netanyahu stood silently as his supporters called for Rabin’s death. The movie’s title sums up Zilberman’s message of blaming a toxic political climate for the actions of a violent madman.

In a sense it will never be possible to fully understand the actions of a fanatic, and the psychological probing of Amir’s personality cannot entirely explain what led this vulnerable young man to move from anger and hatred to a vicious act of murder. But the provocative argument about the responsibility that revered leaders have on the unstable members of society does provoke and disturb. An assassin’s actions can never be thoroughly explained, but this ragged, powerful film cogently indicts the dark, repressive voices in any society who can set the stage for violence. Considering the increasingly remote chances for peace in the Middle East, this tale of a madman’s fanaticism takes on an especially chilling and mournful power.

Production companies: Metro Communications, Opening Night Productions, Mountaintop Productions
Cast: Yehuda Nahari Halevi, Amitay Yaish Ben Ousilio, Anat Ravnizky, Sivan Mast, Daniella Kertesz

Director: Yaron Zilberman
Screenwriters: Ron Leshem, Yaron Zilberman
Producers: David Silber, Sharon Harel, Tamar Sela, Yaron Zilberman, Ruth Cats, Moshe Edery, Ron Leshem
Executive producers: Netta Segal, Gideon and Dita Liron, Hezi Bezalel, Uzi Zucker, Rivka Saker, Chaim and Shelly Katzman
Director of photography: Amit Yasour
Production designer: Danny Avshalom
Costume designers: Laura Sheim, Naomi Bar Or
Editors: Shira Arad, Yonatan Weinstein
Music: Raz Mesinai
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema)

123 minutes