Review by Sean Boelman
Having been the subject of controversy upon its debut at TIFF last year, Yaron Zilberman’s incendiary thriller Incitement was Israel’s submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature but was not nominated. A challenging and thought-provoking look at division and conflict, Zilberman’s film is important even when it bites off more than it can chew.
The movie explores the year leading up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the former Prime Minister of Israel, and the events and political ideologies that drove the assassin to commit the crime. Although it seems like it would be problematic for a film dealing with such a tragic event to be told from the perspective of the assassin, Zilberman takes great care not to heroize the movie’s lead, instead using his story as a parable.
This film is, first and foremost, about the dangers of division. In an era in which society is essentially defined by the conflicts that are caused by it, this story is just as important now as it was in 1995. Similarly to what some other filmmakers tried (and failed) to do last year, Zilberman is able to effectively capture the precariousness of the situation while treading the thin line between depicting the mindset of a terrorist and bringing light to it.
The main reason why Zilberman’s movie is so successful is that, unlike other recent films about “revolutionary” figures, Zilberman does not portray assassin Yigal Amir in a positive, or even morally ambiguous light. Although Zilberman’s stance on Rabin and his politics is clearly mixed, the movie emphasizes that Amir was very much in the wrong. While Amir would suggest that violence begets violence, Zilberman asserts that peace can be attained in other ways.
Yehuda Nahari gives an absolutely phenomenal performance in his leading role. It is extremely difficult for an actor to pull off an unsympathetic character such as this with the subtlety to make it feel natural, and yet Nahari succeeds. There is just enough emotion in the role to make the character feel believable without humanizing him, and the result is an adequate feeling of anger and disgust at the character.
Zilberman paces the film in a way that is undeniably anxiety-inducing and thrilling. The dialogue-driven scenes are wonderful, as there is a particular cadence between the lines, allowing these scenes to build a natural intensity. Deliberately-placed scenes of calm between the storms further create tension and unease.
One of the most impressive things about the movie is the way in which Zilberman is able to immerse the viewer in this world. From the aspect ratio to the incorporation of archive materials, the film is designed in a way to emulate the look and feel of the news footage that was taken during the era. The effect is a movie that is thoroughly captivating and fascinating.
Yaron Zilberman’s thriller Incitement is not without its flaws, but it is a nuanced look at the unfortunate political division that overwhelmingly plagues society. Though it isn’t the best Israeli film of last year, it is still a riveting and harrowing watch.
Incitement is now playing in theaters.