'Rabin in His Own Words': Film Review

In His Own Words - H 2016
Combining fascinating audio recordings and archival footage, this revealing documentary is essential viewing for anyone interested in Israeli history.

Erez Laufer's documentary chronicles the life and career of the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in 1995.

The late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin never wrote an autobiography, but filmmaker Erez Laufer has created a cinematic version of sorts in Rabin in His Own Words, a comprehensive documentary recounting Rabin's life. Per the title, the film is comprised nearly entirely of Rabin's own words, culled from sources including interviews and letters, accompanied by archival footage, some of it rare and previously unseen. The doc, the second about the historical figure to be released this year — the other, Amos Gitai's Rabin: The Last Day, concentrates on his assassination and its aftermath — emerges as a valuable historical document.

"Nothing is harder than defining yourself," Rabin says early in the film, but he proceeds to defy the assertion by delivering astute commentary about his private life and military and political career. Much of it is deeply personal, such as when he describes his strict upbringing that included being forced to wipe his plate clean at every meal. If he didn't finish the oatmeal his mother served for breakfast, he was forced to eat again the next day. He talks at length about his relationship with his father, including his regret about not being at his deathbed to say goodbye. Later, and more amusingly, he describes his clumsy attempt to dance with Betty Ford at a White House party.

Originally hoping to be a farmer, Rabin embarked on a military career in which he rose through the ranks to eventually become the head of the Israeli Defense Forces, along the way participating in such epochal events as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Six Day War. He later served as the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. for five years, from 1968-1973, and succeeded Golda Meir as prime minister in 1974. He was forced to resign amidst a scandal involving an illegal U.S. bank account held by him and his wife, and from 1984-1990 served as minister of defense before winning a second term as prime minister in 1992.

It was during his second administration that he played a leading role in the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. But the peacemaking was deeply resented by Israeli conservative factions, and in 1995 he was assassinated by a right-wing extremist (the film discreetly ends just before this tragic event).

A thorough knowledge of Israeli history and politics would be helpful for viewers, as Rabin in His Own Words is sometimes sketchy and scattershot in its narrative. But its subject emerges as a thoughtful and articulate chronicler, and the wealth of footage presented, including rare home movies, is consistently fascinating. Late in the film, Rabin strongly makes the case for his diplomatic overtures to the Palestinians that would ultimately lead to his demise. That he seemingly died in vain only makes his fate more poignant.  

Distributor: Menemsha Films
Production: Yes Doc, New Fund for Cinema and TV, Kol MIney Productions
Director-editor: Erez Laufer
Producers: Orly Topel, Vivi Halpern
Composer: Yehuda Poliker

Not rated, 100 minutes