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Cause of Death (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Cause of Death


Featuring Jamal Barakat, Anissa Barakat, Uri Bar-Lev, Amit Fisherman, Osama Gavish, Hader Gavish, Willys Hazan, Dr. Chen Kugel, Rudy Netter, Adam Barakat, Metab Barakat, Nibal Barakat, Amira Barakat and Tamir Barakat.

Script written by Ramy A. Katz and Assaf Lapid.

Directed by Ramy A. Katz.

Distributed by YesDocu. 79 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened for the 2019 Other Israel Festival.

Cause of Death is a heart-rending documentary about Salim Barakat, a Druze policeman who was killed while trying to stop a terrorist from committing a massacre in a Tel Aviv seafood restaurant in 2002. The official story at the time was that Salim Barakat killed the terrorist in question, but was also mortally wounded in the fight, stabbed in the throat.

However, years after the tragic incident, Barakat’s family – and most specifically his brother Jamal – feels that there are some holes in the official story. Apparently, there was a bystander there who had a gun and shot at the terrorist. There was also the specter of racism – though Salim was Druze, not Palestinian, he looked more Arab than the terrorist he was fighting.

Is it possible that Salim’s death was actually a tragic accident?

Jamal Barakat took on a dogged investigation a decade after his brother’s death, searching for the truth while at the same time being nice and accommodating with Salim’s police brethren. He was not trying to alienate his friends, he just wanted to find the truth. They obviously cared for Salim – they have an annual memorial for him with Jamal included on the anniversary.

His mother also was certain that the official story was a lie, as were most of his family. (Arguably the oddest scene in this mostly very straightforward film has Jamal talking his seven-year-old nephew into the idea that he is Salim reincarnated, and the boy tells a story of being murdered years before.)

However, for the most part Cause of Death is a smart-and-straightforward crime film, as well as a touching look at a family in mourning.

After the end credits, the filmmakers went so far as to show letters from the police, the medical examiner’s office and the coroner which strongly rebuffed the findings of the film. This was a brave thing for a documentarian to do. I’m sure they realized that this could suggest that the cover-up is ongoing – and that may well be the case – however it also does point to the fact that they had a very specific point of view and that they did not approach the authorities for their side of the story. Which again, I don’t know enough about the case other than what I have seen here to say one way or the other; who – if either side – is completely right.

However, Cause of Death does make a convincing case, even if they may have a specific agenda.

The truth is, the lie may not even be the most important part of the film, though it is a driving factor. In many ways Cause of Death is about grief and loss, and how mourning a loved one who is taken too soon will continue to reverberate through the lives of a family for many years. Jamal Barakat is doing his best to honor his brother’s legacy. He was a hero and who died while trying valiantly to save others and his memory should be honored. For certain, no one on either side questions that.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: November 17, 2019.

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