In 2016, SAVVY Contemporary initiated a series of solo exhibitions by filmmakers during the weeks of the Berlinale - starting with Welcome to Applied Fiction by Jean Pierre Bekolo. Each year we continue to invite a film director to engage with the possibility of expanding her or his work beyond the flatness of the screen and making transparent the process and the research behind filmmaking. In 2017 we are honoured to welcome Amos Gitai:
THE LAW OF THE PURSUER is an essay exhibition by Amos Gitai revolving around issues and themes raised in his film Rabin, the Last Day (2015) about the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4th 1995. Featuring unreleased research material and film footage from Gitai’s archive collected in the course of the last twenty years, the exhibition’s central piece will be a new video-installation with a performative element commissioned by SAVVY Contemporary. This new work questions the shifting concept of democracy and addresses the problem of extremisms and the current crisis of politics.
Resonating with the structure of the film, his installation is a whirlwind of discourse surrounding the dreadful and confounding act of violence that took place in Tel Aviv, while also becoming a metaphor of the consequences of a polarized and poisonous atmosphere of political extremism. THE LAW OF THE PURSUER shows how inflammatory and fundamentalist language can instill violence and sow the seeds of brutality, it is an examination and a psychoanalytical portrait of a traumatized political context and society speaking to the one we are living in today. Through the words and the aplomb of Shimon Peres, through the memories of Leah Rabin, through the deceptive speeches of a young Netanyahu and the discourse of political extremists and ultraorthodox rabbis, we are invited to navigate a complex political thriller and to experience the polarised social texture of the Israeli context of the mid 1990s. This narrative invites us to reflect about the alarming discourses on the myths and longings of the nation state, on the current (re)constructions of the concept of race and identity, and of what is promulgated by fundamentalist political rhetoric.
In his film, Gitai shows the brutality of religious, ideological and political extremism, and points at the cruelness and absurdity of a Jewish Talmudic law that permits extrajudicial killings, the Din Rodef ("law of the pursuer"): a rodef in traditional Jewish law is someone who is "pursuing" another to murder him or her. According to Jewish law, such a person must be killed after being warned to stop, and refusing to do so. In some of the most acute scenes of the film several rabbis pronounce an anathema on the prime minister, declaring Rabin an enemy of the Jewish people and invoking the angels of destructions to kill him, and indirectly inciting the young fundamentalist Yigal Amir to murder Rabin under the assumption that making concessions to the Palestinian Authority (following the Oslo Accords) would endanger Jewish lives. Other intense and violent scenes, most beautifully directed by Gitai, show settlers on the West Bank fighting with the soldiers who have come to evict them. The noise of the trucks and the cranes coming to dismantle the settlements and the campsites, the view hesitating on the landscape on the background of an ascending soundtrack by Amit Poznansky, everything contributes to create a bitter sense of discomfort, of anger and fear, an unbearable claustrophobic feeling that the imagination of this fundamentalist turn is enhancing. Benjamin Netanyahu, Rabin’s opponent and now Israel’s prime minister, appears in front of angry crowds, encouraging their rage and seeking to turn it to political advantage. Rabin’s image is burned, photomontages of a Rabin-Hitler are waved, and his name is blasphemed as the traitor of Zionism, a Nazi, a cohort of Satan. The crowd chants “Death to Rabin”. The tension is dense and thunderous.
As Gitai insinuates, the consequences of the assassination of the signatory of the Oslo Accords are still visible today, and the animators of that climate of hate and rage are now fully in power. The political project of Israel seems temporally defeated and exhausted, defeated by the folly of the religious project. Traveling back through history and exploring the unbearable violence with which the nationalist forces fought Rabin’s peace project, letting that reality appear through a juxtaposition of fragments carved into collective memory, Gitai’s installation will not only represent an insight into details of the complex political struggles of this period and their consequences for society today, but also, and particularly, as a questioning of our present situation, as a concerned warning for our futures.
As a visual artist, Amos Gitai creates site-specific projects related to his films. These visual and sound itineraries are composed of an exceptional density of elements. The spaces, pictures, sounds and images offer the public the possibility to embark on a personal journey and a unique spatial experience. Similar to architecture (Gitai holds a PhD in architecture from Berkley University), these constructs confront various elements such as photographs, collages, sounds and spaces – to generate responses and considerations from the public, and offer possible new interpretations. Gitai uses film to stimulate profound thoughts on past and present events, dealing also with the transmission of memory and the role of art in relation to these issues. He adopts a singular approach to the theme of memory that immerses viewers in the assessment of a collective experience.
Amos Gitai’s work has been the subject of major retrospectives, notably at the Centre Pompidou (Paris), NFT and ICA (London), Lincoln Center (New York), Berlin’s Kunstwerke, and at the MoMA of New York, among others. His film installations were presented, among other institutions at: the Venice Biennale of Architecture (Israeli Pavillon), the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, at the Bauhaus Dessau Masters’ House and at the MAXXI in Rome.
THE LAW OF THE PURSUER by Amos Gitai is presented within the programme of 12th Forum Expanded | 67th Berlinale.