Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Waltz with Bashir

10-20 years ago documentaries were programs we watched on TV, but things changed and documentaries became gradually rarer on TV and people wrung their hands. But unpredicted documentaries reappeared, this time at the cinema, even occasionally at cinemas run by Hoyts and Reading. Not only have they reappeared but they have become more innovative and even been imitated as mockumentaries (Forgotten Silver, Dark Side of the Moon, Strictly Ballroom and Razzle Dazzle). Using reconstruction is relatively common in documentaries but Waltz with Bashir takes this further by using animation for its reconstructed scenes (including people's dreams and memories) and also for its interviews (Noise Control turns this approach into a mockumentary).

Director Ali Folman (who co-directed the X-files like comedy Saint Clara) served in the Israel Army during the Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon (at age 19) and had trouble remembering some parts of what happened. After being rung by a friend who was troubled by nightmares of being chased by 26 dogs, he hunts down former army colleagues in an effort to fill in the gaps. This film documents that process.

Some of the men have more accurate memories and some have less . More interesting than the filling in the gaps is the general impression one is left with of how the Israel Army conducted its operations and apparently how little the average Israeli soldier understood of where they were and what they were doing there. Also some of the surreal experiences, such as walking through the terminal at Beirut airport.

The film climaxes with the infamous massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. The film steers clear of the controversy over how many Palestinians were killed (700-3500) but comes down with a clear statement of who was responsible. Namely Israel's allies, the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia, who, angry after the assassination of their leader Bashir Gemayel, were sent into the camps with the cooperation of the Israelis and did the killing, until stopped by an Israeli general (the film suggests that the order to stop came the next day, Wikipedia states that the massacre and body disposal took 2½ days). It exonerates the Israeli soldiers but implicates their commanders all the way up to Minister of Defence Arial Sharon, in knowing that the massacre was under way and doing nothing to stop it, while continuing to provide military support to the Phalangist militia during the massacre.

The angular style of animation, with bold, red/orange, colours and black shadows are very effective for a war movie. The moment at which the film breaks out of animation into "live action" footage was very well chosen.

Ian's rating 4/5
Anne's rating 4/5

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