Thursday, August 13, 2009

DVD Views: Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir ****
Directed by: Ari Folman
Written By: Ari Folman.
Starring: Ron Ben-Yishai (Himself), Ronny Dayag (Himself), Ari Folman (Himself), Dror Harazi (Himself), Yehezkel Lazarov (Carmi Cna'an), Mickey Leon (Boaz Rein-Buskila), Ori Sivan (Himself), Zahava Solomon (Himself).

Waltz with Bashir is unlike any other animated film, or any other documentary, I have ever seen before. It is a film about the massacre of Palestinian refugees at the hands of Christian soldiers in retaliation fort the assassination of their President, Bashir. It is told from the point of view of the Israeli soldiers who sat back and watched the massacre happen and didn’t do anything. They even provided the light necessary for the massacre to happen by firing up flares.

The film is written and directed by Ari Folman, who was one of those Israeli soldiers who watched the massacre happen. Over the 25 years since though, he has blocked out the entire incident from his mind. He goes on a journey to talk to the other soldiers who were there - who seem to have the opposite problem - they can never forget. Their dreams are haunted by what they have seen. One soldier dreams of the 26 dogs he was ordered to shoot when entering a small town so that the dogs wouldn’t warn the residents. Now, they return in his dreams and chase him down every night.

It may seem strange to make a film about Israeli pain stemming from this massacre, instead of the Palestinian pain. But although Folman concentrates on what he and his fellow soldiers went through, he doesn’t shy away from the consequences of his actions. The lone live action sequence in the movie shows images from the massacre - ones that will likely haunt the viewer, much like they haunted the soldiers.

The animation in the film is oddly appropriate for the film. It warps things a little bit. It also allows for reenactments of dreams and memories, which don’t appear quite real, and yet have the emotional resonance that would be impossible any other way. Some will complain that the animation, and the reenactments mean that Waltz with Bashir isn’t a real documentary, and yet I beg to differ. The animation allows the movie to be more real than film the movie straight would have done. It also allows for some of the most haunting images of any movie this year. In particular there is a sequence that Folman returns to again and again - as he and two other soldiers come out of the water, naked at night as the flares starting coming out, and the gunfire starts.

The film is about the elusive nature of memory and how people cope, or not cope as the case maybe, with what they have seen and done. Sometimes it is better to forget what you have done, because it makes it easier to live with yourself. And yet, in this case, it is important for the men, and Israel in general, to remember their own crimes. Waltz with Bashir shines a light on a moment in history that Israel would rather forget, but which they never should.

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