Dirs. Herz Frank, Maria Kravchenko. Latvia, Russia, Israel, 2015. 80 min.
Hot Docs title Beyond The Fear has generated controversy in Israel by being programmed in the Documentary Competition section of the 2015 Jerusalem Film Festival, with the country’s Culture Minister, Miri Regev, threatening to withdraw financial support if the festival shows the film. It tells the story of Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israel’s Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995, and Larissa Tremblover, a Russian-born Jewish woman in her mid-thirties, married with four children, who started corresponding with Amir and ended up leaving her husband, marrying the prisoner and bearing him a son.
Altogether, too many details are intentionally left in the dark, as if irrelevant to the subject.
Kept in a solitary cell and monitored 24 hours a day, Amir is probably the most detested man in Israel, sentenced to life imprisonment with no apparent chance of parole. His relationship with Larissa is a constant struggle; long legal battles were waged to allow them first to meet, then to hold hands, to touch each other, to get married and finally to enjoy one regular monthly intimate encounter.
Frank, a respected documentarian who moved from his native Latvia to Israel in 1992, was no stranger to the subject when he first undertook this film (he died before it was finished). An earlier film, The Last Judgement (1988), about the killer of a union leader, was a similar attempt to unveil the human aspect of a murderer, without ever trying to justify the act.
Frank first tackled Amir’s case some ten years ago and was occasionally in doubt about the project, which was finally completed by his co-director Maria Kravchenko after his death in 2013. For Beyond The Fear, Frank was given access to tapes of Amir’s phone conversations, in which he is mainly captured telling stories to his son, Yinon, where the concepts of “good” versus “bad” are frequently mentioned. Frank was permitted to closely follow Larissa and her brood but he never got into Amir’s cell or talked to him. He did take reactions on the street and interviewed acquaintances about the affair.
How Beyond The Fear might have looked if Frank had lived to assemble the film himself is a question which will remain unanswered. Kravchenko, who takes full editing credit, focuses on the angle of the victimised lovers fighting the system, a couple whose small but significant victories have encouraged them to believe that even if they still live apart now, it may not be forever.
For audiences that are not so personally involved, this could possibly look like a moving tale about a starry-eyed boy who pays dearly for following his ideals through to the bitter end and the weepy, soulful, desperately enamoured woman who fights for the right to love him. But for many Israelis - who blame Amir, in their eyes evil personified, for putting an end to the progressive, democratic future symbolised by Rabin’s leadership - to look at this pair from a romantic perspective only is an abomination. And, to be fair, no one will fully grasp from this film the reasons that drew the couple together in the first place.
Rabin’s assassination, just like Kennedy’s before him, remains an unsolved mystery with countless conspiracy theories attached to it. Very few, if any, believe Amir’s claim to have had no accomplices or partners, and the film’s decision not to examine this issue seems rather strange. There is no clear explanation of Larissa’s comfortable life, or about the way her second marriage affected the four children she already had (there are a couple of interviews with her older daughter but they lack any real impact). The religious angle is visually present but never explored. Amir’s brother is glimpsed occasionally but remains silent throughout, although he was involved in the case and served time for his part in it.
Altogether, too many details are intentionally left in the dark, as if irrelevant to the subject. But this entire film wouldn’t have existed if not for that act, done not out of passion or in a fit of madness, but a premeditated murder perpetrated by a still unrepentant killer who sadly enough, is gathering more sympathisers of late.
Production companies: Ego Media, White River Films, Vertov – Real Cinema
Producer: Guntis Trekteris
International sales: Journeyman Pictures (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Screenplay: Herz Frank, Maria Kravchenko
Cinematography: Herz Frank, Israel Freedman, Alexander Gorev, Sergey Tsirkin
Editing: Maria Kravchenko