When tragedy strikes, attention understandably goes to those impacted by it; in the case of a political assassination, it’s an entire nation that grieves. On the night of November 4, 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke to a massive crowd gathered at what was then known as Kings of Israel Square (it’s since been renamed in his honor); as he left the rally, an extremist emerged from the shadows and fired three shots at short range. Rabin died less than an hour later, and Israel mourned not only the loss of their leader but the progress towards peace he stood for. Yigal Amir, the assassin, had adopted extremist views that placed him staunchly opposed to the Oslo Accords, and in the months leading up to his terrible act, he found ways to justify the murder in the holy texts that guide the Jewish faith.
Incitement, a gripping new historical drama directed by Yaron Zilberman (A Late Quartet), shifts the focus from Rabin’s life and politics and instead aims to examine how a man from an Orthodox family with seemingly nothing in his past indicating he’d be capable of such an act could ultimately commit a crime that would change history. Co-written with Ron Leshem, Zilberman creates something of a slow burn over the course of the film’s two hours, making its final moments—as Amir and Rabin finally (and fatally) cross paths—all the more dramatic.
Though we know where all of this is headed, much of what leads up to that pivotal moment is concerning but not alarming. Following his army service and some time abroad in Latvia, Amir (Yahuda Nahari) returns to Israel an enrolls in university to study both law and computer science. Between classes for his degree and his study of the Torah, he begins a bit of a courtship with Nava (Daniella Kertesz), a fellow student from an Ashkenazi family; the two start discussing marriage, but his increasingly intense politics and her traditional family’s expectations mean it’s not meant to be.
The film gets dangerously close to implying that Nava leaving him is the catalyst to sending Amir down a path towards assassination, but Zilberman does well to both give this moment the weight it deserves (surely it had some impact) while shifting his focus quickly enough to explore far more of what makes him tick overall. He’s drumming up some strange interpretations of the holy texts, challenging friends, family and even rabbis with his increasingly extreme interpretations. He starts asking old army buddies for weapons, praises an act of terrorism committed against Muslims, and conspires with fellow activists to plan even more violence.
With key dates called out in title cards that remind us all of this is happening in a very real timeline, Zilberman and editors Shira Arad and Yonatan Weinstein create a nearly seamless connection between archival footage and the film itself. From Amir and his father watching news reel that shows Rabin at a podium addressing the country or meeting with then President Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to crowd shots from various rallies intercut with Amir (the actor portraying him) and his fellow extremists protesting Rabin and his government, it all serves to make the thriller unfolding before us that much more chilling.
By the final moments, Zilberman incorporates footage that shows Amir (the real one) laying in wait on that fateful November day—whoever shot the images from a rooftop across the street from where the tragedy would occur couldn’t have known what the man in the blue shirt was about to do. But we do, and it’s impossible to look away.
As its title suggests, Incitement serves as cautionary tale about how politics, faith and world views can be provoked and perverted into a dangerous extremism in even the most unexpected places. That it also works as an engrossing thriller, balancing its historical facts with human drama, means it succeeds as a work of art, as well.
Incitement is now available via Music Box Theatre’s Virtual Cinema; a portion of your rental goes to support the theater.