International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Film
With Bashir (Vals Im Bashir) (2008)
Directed and written by Ari Folman.
Starring Ari Folman and Mickey Leon.
Produced by Bridgit Folman Film Gang.
pack of twenty six snarling dogs rampage through a middle eastern
city, slavering and snarling, sending pedestrians and tables scattering.
They pause outside a high-rise building, growling menacingly at
a figure in one of the upstairs windows. Documentary film-maker
Ari Folman sits, listening to an old friend (Boaz Rein Buskila)
in a bar as this vivid, haunting dream of the past two and a half
years is described.
'How did you know
there are twenty six and not thirty?'
He knows because these are the dogs he was ordered to kill in order
to prevent the Palestinians from being warned of an impending Israeli
Ari Folman's first feature length documentary is full of dreams and
memories of a conflict that no-one can quite remember fully. It played
out as a hallucination for many of the soldiers involved, not sure why
they were there and what they were doing. They can only recall the fear,
the adrenaline and often the guilt of their actions. Waltz with Bashir
is an animated film, which serves to help represent this delusional
trip through memories of the 1982 Lebanon War. This is itself a contradiction,
animation being the domain of children's fantasy stories and documentaries
being the realm of truth and realistic reportage. However, in a story
where memory is key, as there is not much video footage of the events,
the animated style is entirely key. The animation itself is very high
quality, gritty and dark throughout, the characters displaying as much
emotion as you would expect their real life counterparts to. It almost
seems as if Folman recorded the events, then drew over each individual
frame. The animation is not the only successful subversion of documentary
technique. The film's original score was composed by neo-classical composer
Max Richter, who has created a cohesive mix of otherworldly piano and
strings but also pounding rock sounding tracks. The pounding opening
sequence with the dogs is particularly effective, making it impossible
to not be immediately involved.
After having the dream described to him, Ari realises that he is unable
to remember anything of his time as a soldier during the conflict. However
when he returns home, he is subject to his own abstract dream about
the period of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. I must confess that before
watching the film, I had never heard of the slaughter. But this is surely
Ari's aim, to raise awareness of a murky event in the history of the
Israel-Palestine conflict, an event in which the level of Israel's involvement
has never been adequately explained. This was useful however, as I travelled
with Ari, putting together the memories and stories he came across and
trying to uncover his own. His psychologist friend (Ori Sivan) suggests
that 'memory takes us where we want to go' and that Ari needs to come
to terms with his role, if any in the massacre. He does this by seeking
out others that were involved in the conflict, all telling us their
memories, speaking as themselves in the film (with the exception of
Boaz Rein Buskila and Carmi Cna'an, who have been replaced by actors).
The films animated style is perfect for the dreamlike way in which the
characters relay their experiences. Sometimes it is hard to tell what
really happened and what memories have been artificially created, such
as the quotation from Apocalypse Now where soldiers surf amongst
artillery shells. However, all the soldiers have had to create some
sort of mental shield against the atrocities they both saw and may have
committed. The film expertly demonstrates this during a segment where
a red Mercedes speeds through the landscape murdering soldiers in an
absurdly comical and over-the-top way. This shows us the disconnection
and desensitization the soldiers had to the conflict going on around
The massacre and the refugeee camps of Sabra and Shatila took place
on the three days between the 16th September and the 18th in 1982. The
exact number of deaths varies, however an official source suggests it
was between 700 and 800 Lebanese and Palestinians. The people holding
the guns were all part of the Lebanese Phalangist Militia. The film
suggests that the majority of the Israeli forces were unaware they were
witnessing a genocide and many, including Folman felt that they were
somehow responsible by not stepping in to stop the slaughter (Fisk,
2001). All this confusion is present in the film, the refugees are moved
to stadium and some of the men are removed, never to return.
Sana Sersawi, a survivor of the conflict, spoke to Robert Fisk in his
article for the Independent about when they returned to find
the men in the stadium. These events are shown in the film: '...and
there was no one there. Nobody. I had been only three years married.
I never saw my husband again.' Folman shows us the confused women and
children on their return to the camp to find their husbands rotting
in the heat of the sun.
Waltz with Bashir shows us things a lot of other war films don't
dare to, the disconnection, the guilt of war. No doubt the film will
upset a lot of people with Israel's involvement still unclear, the half
truths floating around the events depicted. It may also be argued that
many of the Israeli soldiers were aware of what was happening, perhaps
even participating. However, the film is equally about good, innocent
men being forced to do things that inhabit their dreams forever. It
is a film about these men accepting their guilt and trying to make sense
of it. The ending sequence is particularly effective, the veil of the
dream world slips away and the animation disappears. We are finally
seeing the results of the massacre. 'Photograph this, bear witness!'
the Palestinian women weep into the lens.
© Paul Rumble March 2009
Paul is completing his Degree in Creative Writing and Film at the University
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