INCITEMENT – Review
What makes a person move from extremist views to violence is the subject of Yaron Zilberman’s INCITEMENT. Specifically, Zilberman’s unsettling drama/thriller traces the journey of the young far-right Jewish man who assassinated Israel’s Prime Minsiter Yitzak Rabin, an event that altered the direction of Israeli politics and put an end to the Oslo peace accord and its prospect for peace with the Palestinians.
This gripping, harrowing thriller earned an Ophir, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar, for best film as well as one for best casting, and a nomination for the tour-de-force performance of its young lead actor. Despite the awards, the historical drama has sparked controversy in Israel.
When President Bill Clinton helped broker a peace deal between Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with the Oslo accord, many in Israel celebrated the prospect of a solution to the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But vocal opposition from extremists among both Palestinians and Israelis quickly surfaced. Still, no one expected an assassination of the Israeli prime minister by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man.
Yigal Amir (Yehuda Nahari Halevi) is already near the far end of conservative Israelis when the peace deal is announced. His Orthodox family generally share his conservative views, although maybe not the degree to which his political views occupy his thoughts.
Watching Yigal’s transformation up close like this is a disturbing experience but director Zilberman uses our discomfort to make a critical point about how violent extremists are born. Early on, Yigal attends protest rallies opposing the peace accord, but then seems on the verge of joining in when rally turns violent. Still, when a policeman starts to arrest him, he begs to be let go, pleading that it will ruin his career as a law student and that he is about to be married and his fiancee will dump him if she finds out. The emotional plea works and the policeman lets him go.
It is true that Yigal is studying law but he exaggerated his romantic situation. He and Nava (Daniella Kertesz) are discussing marriage, but no wedding is in the offing. There is a family complication, as Nava is an Ashkenazi Jew, while his family are and his family are Sephardic Jews from Yemen. There are hints of prejudice against the Sephardi in Israeli society generally, and Yigal’s mother is filled with resentment towards the Ashkenazim Jewish majority who dominate Israeli society. She cautions her son that Nava’s Eastern European-derived family will never accept him, re-inforcing his sense of being an outsider.
However, the incitement in the title comes more from heated political climate and the incendiary speeches of far-right rabbis and other leaders. When Yigal and his more radical friends like Shlomo Amir (Amitay Yaish Benuosilio) begin to talk about assassination, Yigal seeks moral approval from like-minded extreme right rabbis. When Yigal makes inquiries, clocking his question as a philosophical one, there is no shortage of heated talk. Some are willing to provide that needed rationale, although the argument is phrased indirectly and the rabbis may not be aware of what a powder keg Yigal is, or their role as the match.
It is a chilling film, a true story that unfolds like a taut thriller, one that picks up speed and terror as Yigal and his radical friends plunge into the realm of terrorism. Yehuda Nahari Halevi is riveting and terrifying as Yigal as we see him slip under the surface of extremism, stepping from protest to violence. The performance is stunning, as we watch the character become increasingly un-moored from his more mainstream friends and ordinary life, drawn in by speeches of extremist leaders and rabbis.
INCITEMENT gives us a cautionary tale on the making of an assassin, and a lesson in the toxic power of incendiary rhetoric, a lesson all societies should heed. INCITEMENT, in Hebrew with English subtitles, opens Friday, February 21, at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema.
RATING: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars