Portrait of an assassin's wife

'Beyond the Fear'shows how Larisa Trembovler overcame both the objections of people around her and her own fears marrying Yigal Amir.

Larisa Trembovler: A ‘soul mate’ of Yigal Amir, the killer of Yitzhak Rabin. (photo credit: COURTESY ‘BEYOND THE FEAR')
Larisa Trembovler: A ‘soul mate’ of Yigal Amir, the killer of Yitzhak Rabin.
(photo credit: COURTESY ‘BEYOND THE FEAR')
Why would someone want to make a film about Larisa Trembovler-Amir, the woman who married and conceived a child with Yigal Amir, the assassin who killed prime minister Yitzhak Rabin? Should the film, “Beyond the Fear”, have been allowed to be shown at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival?
The filmmaker who chose this subject matter was Herz Frank, who died in the course of making the film in 2013 at the age of 87. Latvia-born Frank was a well- known documentary filmmaker in the former Soviet Union with a widely respected international reputation as a founder of what came to be known as the Riga School of Poetic Documentary Cinema ‒ an approach based on observing the life of ordinary people using simple film techniques.
After Frank immigrated to Israel about 20 years ago, he continued to be highly sought after around the world as a lecturer and film festival judge, but the local film establishment turned a cold shoulder to him. He received no funding for his movies (“Be - yond the Fear” was funded by Latvian film agencies), and he was unable to find work teaching. Even when he offered to teach a filmmaking course at Tel Aviv University on a voluntary basis, he was turned down.
“Beyond the Fear”, then, can be interpreted as a film by an outsider about an outsider. Like Frank, Trembovler, a religiously ob - servant mother of four who also immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, found herself on the outside of society when she decided to marry Amir. What seems to have motivated Frank to make “Beyond the Fear”, he suggests in the film, was his curiosity to find out why Trembovler made her surprising decision. Frank filmed her over the course of nearly a decade, and it is clear from watching the two of them together in the brief scenes in which Frank appears that they respect and trust each other.
Frank’s sensitivity toward Trembovler is frequently contrasted by comments made by interviews with “man-in-the-street” Israelis, in which they speak of her derisively.
As portrayed by Frank, Trembovler comes across as a likeable person, intriguing in her combination of romantic naïveté and intellectual philosophizing (she has a doctorate in Medieval Jewish and Arab philosophy). She openly describes her emotions toward Amir, framing what is happening between them as “two soul mates who have found each other.”
She first meets Amir during a prison visit organized together with her ex-husband, both of whom share a kind of intellectual curiosity in getting to know him. After her divorce, she continues to stay in touch with Amir through phone calls, letters and visits. As their feelings blossom, she decides to make an impossible love story possible.
Although she is unlikely to ever become a poster child for the women’s liberation movement, Trembovler does possess exactly the traits that feminists often advocate: she follows what she considers to be her inner truth and conducts her life according to how she wants to live it ‒ not according to what others around her want. Her decision to get a divorce and to marry Amir ‒ separate initiatives years apart ‒ are both made on her own. For her to come to those conclusions requires her to overcome both the objections of people around her and her own fears – hence the title of the film ‒ “Beyond the Fear”.
Maria Kravchenko, the film’s codirector, who took over the reins after Frank died, believes that watching Trembovler overcome her fears is what universalizes the story. Speaking at the film’s Israeli premiere in Jerusalem in early July before the start of this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival, Kravchenko pointed out that the challenge of overcoming one’s fears is something everyone is familiar with.
Regardless of whether one finds common ground with Trembovler, it’s hard to see how the film could lead to anyone identifying with or glorifying Amir. Besides archival news footage, Amir is mainly heard rather than seen in the film. During the daily phone calls he makes to his son, Yinon, the camera rests on the boy, whose face is obscured. Amir tells Yinon biblical stories and answers his questions about why he is in jail and why he can’t leave in a banal way with occasional displays of humor. Indeed, he sounds just like a regular dad who, because he doesn’t have much else to do, probably is more reliable in calling home than many other fathers separated from their children because of travel or divorce.
But there is no attempt to glorify him, no podium is provided for Amir to justify his actions.
It’s clear that Culture Minister Miri Regev, who protested the showing of the film and threatened to cut off government funds for the Jerusalem Film Festival if it was shown there, reached her point of view without having seen the movie. The film is actually done in a very mundane style. It tells its story using conventional ‒ some might even say old-fashioned ‒ documentary techniques such as vox populi interviews with the general public and television news clips.
The movie is structured around showing a great deal of archival material taken from Channel 1 TV ‒ everything from footage of the 1995 Tel Aviv peace rally where Amir killed Rabin to the countless court appearances made by Amir or Trembovler. During their court hearings, the Amirs successfully obtained permission to marry and later on the opportunity to have eight-hour conjugal meetings in prison in a special chamber on a double bed without surveillance. Their son was born in 2007.
Many of these news clips include shots of iconic TV news anchor Haim Yavin summarizing the latest developments, so much so that Yavin is on the screen more often than Amir and probably as much as Trembovler. The background information may be necessary for people unfamiliar with the events, but for most Israelis, who know them only too well, these time-consuming recaps are tedious and make the 80-minute film hard to sit through.
The documentary also is not provocatively biased or one-sided. Moments in which Trembovler is shown in a positive light are balanced with moments of public criticism. The film is very much in the mainstream journalistic tradition of showing both sides to a story. It’s most likely that if Regev had not generated so much publicity, the film would have attracted little attention. Instead, as is always the case when censorship is imposed or threatened, it has become highly talked about.
That could turn out to be a good thing, because “Beyond the Fear” does raise important issues. Is a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in prison entitled to what are considered to be basic human rights? Do those rights include the right to marry and have children?
In contemporary Israel, the answer to both questions is yes. That is the reason, suggested one of the film’s producers, Sergey Tsirkin, speaking at the premiere, that “Beyond the Fear” ought to be seen as a tribute to Israeli society.
It may be discomforting to know that people like Amir continue to enjoy life at the expense of taxpayers, but if a documentary film comes along and shows this, it gives us an opportunity to review the situation with all its ramifications. Regev’s reaction to the film also raises the specter of government intervention in cultural affairs.
The professional lectors of the Jerusalem Film Festival selected “Beyond the Fear” on the basis of artistic merit. Following Regev’s threat to curtail funding, the festival management backed down and removed the movie from the festival program. Instead, in a spineless compromise, it decided to show the film outside of the festival but to include it as a participant in the festival’s documentary-film competition.
Regev’s intervention mirrors attempts made by Knesset members and prison authorities over the years to intervene in the way Amir is treated. There also have been compromises, but in the end his rights have been protected.
Whether or not the rights of artists will continue to be protected during Regev’s reign as culture minister remains to be seen.
For the moment, the upshot of the “Beyond the Fear” controversy is that both sides look bad ‒ Regev for intervening and the festival management for acquiescing to her. At the festival opening, Regev was booed and heckled by the crowd. The only one who seems untouched by the inflamed situation is Trembovler. She continues to raise the child fathered by Amir. She regularly speaks with and visits Amir. Her ordinary life continues as before.