‘Incitement’ examines how a terrible era spawned a killer

Incitement, which in Hebrew is titled Days of Awe—the days of reflection between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur—seems to want Israeli society to take stock of itself in light of this story.

‘Incitement’ (photo credit: COURTESY OF UNITED KING FILMS)
Yaron Zilberman’s Incitement is the latest film to tell the story of Yigal Amir, who murdered prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Just as in the earlier films, Beyond the Fear and Amos Gitai’s Rabin, the Last Day, Amir emerges as a self-justifying narcissist who felt no remorse, only anger at a society that sent him to prison for murdering its leader.
The challenge facing Zilberman and Ron Leshem, who wrote the screenplay with him, is to make us take an interest in such an unsympathetic character.
The director does this by placing Amir’s actions in the context of the climate of hatred and incitement at the time. He recreates the atmosphere of the early to mid-1990s in Israel, when, following the Oslo Accords, Hamas launched a wave of terror attacks that resulted in hundreds of deaths in Israel. Extremists on the Israeli Right protested this by demonizing Rabin, calling for him to be killed at large rallies where he was depicted as Hitler and Arafat. Nooses for hanging him and a coffin meant for him were displayed. The most effective moments in the movie incorporate this newsreel footage into scenes that show Amir, played by Yehuda Nahari Halevi, attending these rallies, including one at which an exuberant Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the adoring crowd and expresses no qualms about the calls to murder the current prime minister, his political opponent. Nothing else in the film is as chilling or as disturbing as this news footage. While all these facts are well known and the footage has been broadcast many times, it is still shocking, and the film is compelling when it highlights this barbarity.
Most of the film, however, delves into his personal life and explores how Amir, a mediocre law student, had a chip on his shoulder over the fact that, as a Yemenite from a lower middle-class family, he wasn’t taken seriously by the Ashkenazi elite. His mother, Geula (Anat Ravnitzki), conflates slights against the family’s Mizrahi background with the political situation and preaches hatred. His father, Shlomo (Amitay Yaish Ben Ousilio, who gives the most moving and appealing performance), counsels Yigal to be reasonable and not take the law into his own hands.
Amir’s anger intensifies after he is rejected by Nava (Daniella Kertesz, who rescued Brad Pitt from zombies in World War Z), a young woman from a well-to-do Ashkenazi settler family. He had hoped to marry her, but she was put off by both his apocalyptic intensity – he spoke to her of his plan to abandon everything to start a militia that would replace the army in the areas from which Israeli would withdraw through the Oslo Accords – and her aversion to his background.
After she is done with him, he meets another woman from a similar background, Margalit Haf-Shefi (Sivan Mast). She puts him in touch with her uncle, the late rabbi and politician Benny Elon, who strengthened his conviction that rabbinic law would sanction him murdering Rabin, and he hears of more rabbis who espouse this belief.
As the film progresses, something curious happens: Amir starts to seem more and more like an appealing underdog. We are simply so conditioned for to root for the guy to get the girl and realize his ambitions. And by casting the extremely handsome and charismatic Halevi in this role, Zilberman ensures that Amir will come off as a hero, rather than an anti-hero. Who wouldn’t sympathize when the snobbish rich settlers turn up their noses at this handsome, ambitious young guy, simply because his family is Yemenite? It’s a strange experience and not at all pleasant to start to identify with this killer.
The impeccably written and acted Incitement, which in Hebrew is titled Days of Awe, referring to the days of reflection between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, seems to want Israeli society to take stock of itself in light of this story. That’s an understandable sentiment, but if the right-wing establishment is guilty for Rabin’s death, then that seems to absolve Amir of (at least some of the) responsibility for his actions, which is disconcerting. It’s tough to go back to those days of political incitement, and tougher still to spend two hours with Amir.