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'Rabin, the Last Day' recounts a tragedy in Israel's history (unrated)

For those who care about the prospects for peace in the Middle East and the fate of a secular Israel, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by the religiously observant Yigal Amir is the saddest story ever told, a perpetual nightmare from which there may be no awakening.

Now, more than 20 years after that act, Amos Gitai, one of Israel’s most prominent filmmakers, has taken on that murder in the somber, compelling Rabin, The Last Day, an unusual work that mixes genres to at times awkward but always powerful effect.

Despite its title, Gitai’s film deals not only with the events of Nov. 4, 1995, but with what happened in the country in the days leading up to it as well as the official government investigation into the death that followed.

The Last Day includes talking-head interviews with former President Shimon Peres and Rabin’s widow, Leah, as well as a certain amount of documentary footage, largely of the demonstrations that preceded Rabin’s death. But most of it consists of re-enactments and staged scenes, with the lack of identification of participants leading to intermittent confusion.

These situations, however, are not made up out of whole cloth. According to Gitai, “Our film is completely factual; it is based on existing documentation. For every line spoken in this film, we have the relevant documents with the words as they were originally spoken.”

The most chilling of Gitai’s re-creations is a scene of a group of Jews in prayer shawls placing a curse called the Pulsa Dinura on Rabin with the intent of ending his life. But even less dramatic dramatizations hold our interest.

The bulk of these have to do with the work of the three-man Shamgar Commission, chaired by Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar and set up to investigate the nuts-and-bolts specifics of the assassination.

Among these, the conversations that stand out for their depiction of things gone fatally wrong are the testimony of Shamir’s bodyguard and that of the driver of his car, who somehow took eight to nine minutes to drive the third of a mile from the shooting site to the nearest hospital.

Though we see the assassination itself more than once, Gitai’s goal in making this film is not mere depiction. Just as the Shamgar Commission investigated the act itself, the director has said he wanted to create “a kind of cinematic commission of inquiry to investigate the incitement,” the situation in the country that led up to the act.

In line with this, Gitai shows documentary footage of furious demonstrations against the Oslo peace accords that Rabin signed, including pictures of Rabin’s head atop an SS uniform and crowds chanting “Death to Rabin” and “We’ll get rid of Rabin with blood and fire.”

These all speak to Gitai’s conclusion that the fire of sedition was alive in Israel, fed by rabbis and settlers apoplectic about Rabin’s land-for-peace ideas and backed up by opportunistic politicians.

Whether you agree with this conclusion or not, it’s hard not to feel the shock that shook the country at this murder.

With: Yitzhak Hiskiya, Pini Mittelman, Michael Warshaviak.

Director: Amos Gitai.

Screenwriters: Amos Gitai, Marie-Jose Sanselme.

A Kino Lorber release. Running time: 153 minutes. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade: O Cinema Miami Beach; in Broward: Cinema Paradiso Hollywood.