Jewish Journal

Director takes remembrance of Rabin to the stage

The premiere of “Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination” at the Avignon Festival in France in 2016. Photo by Christophe Reynaud de Lage

Israeli director Amos Gitai’s 2015 film, “Rabin, the Last Day,” traces the events before and after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, a traumatic moment that continues to haunt the country’s collective memory more than two decades later. That Rabin’s murderer was a young Orthodox Jew only widened the divide between religious and secular Israelis.

Gitai’s latest project, “Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination,” moves that event onto the stage. Two actresses, Einat Weizman (who also appeared in the film) and Sarah Adler read from the memoirs of Rabin’s widow, Leah, while live music and projections help bring the story to life.

The production, to be presented July 23 at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood, is a theatrical counterpart to Gitai’s film docudrama. The 2 1/2-hour film used archival footage from news reports, as well as staged re-enactments.

The film focused on the violent anger that ultra-Orthodox Jews stoked against Rabin, the architect of the Oslo Accord, because of his efforts to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The hatred reached a boiling point, with violent protests in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A commission was set up to investigate whether government or police officials colluded with the killer, and the film includes a reconstruction of the investigation based on transcripts from the hearings.

Gitai’s documentaries and feature films trace the political and religious rifts within Israeli society. His first documentary, “House,” was censored at its 1980 release because of how it portrayed Palestinians and Israelis living or having lived in the same house in Jerusalem. But the awards and acclaim he has since received at the Venice and Cannes film festivals have granted him a certain level of freedom to criticize the political situation in his home country.

Gitai arrived to filmmaking after studying architecture. In 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out, and he was wounded when a missile shot down his rescue unit helicopter. The episode became the basis of his 2000 film, “Kippur.” After the war, he made short films for Israeli public television, followed by a period of exile in France and the creation of a series of fictional films. He arrived back in Israel in 1993, just as Rabin was signing the peace accord.

The stage performance also features live musicians, with pianist Edna Stern, soprano Keren Motseri and violinist Alexei Kotchekov performing works ranging from Bach to Britten. The interplay between words and music creates a haunting and mournful experience.

“It is like a lullaby or a story that narrates a mythological event,” Gitai said via e-mail.

Twenty years after Rabin’s death, are Israelis at risk of forgetting him? Gitai said he decided to do this project “as a gesture of memory and even hope.”

“Sometimes resurrecting a memory can make things happen,” he said. “But we must remain modest: Art is not the most effective way to change reality. Politics or machine guns have a much more direct effect. However, art sometimes preserves the memory at the moment when the powers in place want to erase it, because they want obedience; they do not want to be disturbed or challenged.”

“Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination” is the third event in Ford Theatre’s “Ignite @ the Ford!,” a new 10-part series that brings far-reaching and challenging performances to a venue that has tended to focus on local programming.

“There’s a cadre of L.A.-based artists and presenters that have been served by the Ford, and we really wanted to increase the national and international presence, so as to raise the visibility of the venue,” said Olga Garay-English, the series curator and the interim executive director for Ford Theatres.

As part of the effort to freshen the programming, Garay-English proposed collaborations with “like-minded” institutions around the country. The Rabin play will have its North American premiere as part of Lincoln Center Festival five days before the Los Angeles performance. It premiered at the prestigious Avignon Festival in France in 2016.

Garay-English said she chose to present Gitai’s play because “it’s the kind of work that would really resonate in our community. Not just for people of Jewish descent, but it’s something that’s of critical concern to mankind as a whole.”

There is a third iteration of the project, besides the film and stage performance. Gitai created an installation, “Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold,” that was presented at the Maxxi museum in Rome, Bozar museum in Brussels and the Collection Lambert en Avignon in France. The show included ceramics, photographs and video installations related to Rabin’s assassination.

Gitai visits the West Bank in his latest work, “West of the Jordan River,” which debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s an intimate portrayal of ordinary Israeli and Palestinian citizens reflecting on the prospects for peace. While he found reasons for hope, Gitai said that 20 years after Rabin’s death, those prospects have vastly diminished.

“I am alarmed by the growing existence of a violent Jewish religious underground in the heart of Israeli secular society,” he said. “This is a disease that could very well destroy the democratic idea that Israel was founded on. In my mind, Israel in its origins was a political endeavor, not a religious one, a political conclusion of a long history of suffering by the Jewish people.”

He added, “Looking at the current Israeli reality, it seems the person who sketched out some kind of political alternative to the reality we’re in was Rabin. … So I decided that I would make this project [about Rabin’s assassination] not just as a director, but as an Israeli citizen. I think this is a voice of a memory that needs to be heard.”

“Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination” will be performed at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East in Hollywood, at 8:30 p.m. July 23. For more information, visit fordtheatres.org. A screening of “Rabin, the Last Day” will take place at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles, at 7 pm. July 20. Tickets are $12 or free for those who purchased tickets to the play. Visit skirball.org