Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai’s response to last year’s assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is a heavily stylized melange of sounds and images structured around the ancient (first-century) writings of Josephus Flavius. Overlong and at times overly precious, the material is, in the end, strong enough to overcome the built-in flaws of the production, and pic is ultimately stirring and moving. Theatrical outings are unlikely, but TV networks not against experimentation could be interested, and pic should crop up on the fest circuit in the months ahead.
The film’s principal images consist of footage shot from a moving vehicle, first in parts of Jerusalem, then in wintry Poland (Warsaw and Krakow) and finally in areas of Israel including the Golan and Gaza. In a lengthy sequence near the end, the camera travels around and around the spot where Rabin was gunned down as he left a peace rally in November. Overlaid on this material are images in which passages from Flavius are read by a bunch of distinguished personalities, including film director Samuel Fuller and actors Hanna Schygulla and Enrico Lo Verso.
Flavius was a Jew and, using the name Ben Mattitiayu, served as a commander of the resistance army that fought against the Romans in Upper Galilee in A.D. 73. After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the fall of Masada, Mattitiayu was spared only if he agreed to write a history of the war from the Roman viewpoint. This became “The War of the Jews,” a moving document in which, though writing from the perspective of the conquerors, the author is unable to conceal his sadness and horror for the 100,000 killed and 97,000 taken prisoner by the invaders.
It’s this material which, spoken in a variety of accents and styles, forms the bulk of the aural background (with footage of the readers of the text superimposed over the main image), but mournful songs of pain and loss are also heard in touching counterpoint.
This is obviously a personal response to the traumatic events of last November, and won’t be to everyone’s taste. A more straightforward approach might have achieved a far greater impact. Nevertheless, Gitai’s passionate hymn to the futility of violence is an intriguing and fascinating experiment.