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WALTZ WITH BASHIR, Ari Folman director, Israel/Germany/France, 2008

By Claus Mueller

In 2007 Marjane Satrapi presented in the acclaimed PERSEPOLIS an animated black and white auto-biographical reconstruction of her coming of age in Iran, a feature that could also have been filmed in a traditional fashion.  Ari Folman's documentary WALT WITH BASHIR on the resurrection of repressed memories would have been very difficult to present as a feature film.

Animation, in this case hand-drawn sepia shaded images, seemed to be the only possible choice for a narration of the horrors of war. A combination of flash animation, classic animation and 3D drawn from scratch provide the vehicle for the story.  Cruelty inflicted on others and the repression of the memory of such horrors, are  represented in animated images with their ambiguity and in a narrative holding attention.. The images draw the viewer into the story generating reflection and afterthoughts but do not prompt emotional identification Thus B. Brecht's dictum of  creating reflexive theatre or cinema  applies, precluding Brecht's  invocation "Buerger, glotzt nicht so daehmlich". Throughout Folman's documentary we retain our critical distance.

Of  the large number of  documentaries and features dealing with issues of genocide, ethnic cleansing, the rape and killing of civilians, torture, soldiers' experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, few films retain status over longer periods of time, be it in our memory or in the chronicles of  film criticism. WALTZ WITH BASHIR is different since we accompany Folman in the reconstructing of his past experience through the vivid and compelling animated images used to illustrate , rather than mirror-like reflect, his process of self-reflection and the atrocities of war. WALTZ WITH BASHIR perfectly complements other superb Israeli films on the impact her wars have on soldiers such as BEAUFORT (2007, by Joseph Cedar) and FLIPPING OUT (2007, by Yoaf Shamir), though Folman's presentation is more demanding.

WALTZ WITH BASHIR refers to Israel's failure to exert control over the Lebanese phalangist armed forces who invaded the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982.  For three days they slaughtered under the Israeli watch, including illumination provided at night time by the Israel army, thousands of women and children in response to the assassination of the President-elect of Lebanon, ,Bashir Gemayel on September 14th. Folman served in the Israeli army in Lebanon on the early 80's and was stationed in Beirut but he could not recall what he did there.  Thus the film provides   reconstructions of his memory through his interviews with fellow soldiers who served during the massacre and through periodic flashbacks with surreal overtones. Personal fantasies blend with the actual images of bombed out Beirut, pictures of the Beirut airport with tourists and planes switch to that of a totally destroyed facility. Yet talks with other soldiers and professionals fill in the memory gaps. . He was there watching from a roof top the refugee camps illuminated by Israeli flares. He observed the atrocities and was placed into the position of a silent collaborator thus passive participant.

He repressed this traumatic experience. A therapists in the documentary clarified Folman's mental journey of repression.  Folman assumes the role of a Nazi watching murder, similar to the guards who watched members of Folman's family tortured in the Nazi concentration camps. This was a pain too difficult to sustain if his memory of the refugee slaughter had been kept alive. Yet producing and directing WALTZ WITH BASHIR over several years provided relief to Folman.

The only criticism I have of this must see film is the superfluous  ending. For several minutes we see actual documentary footage from the Sabra and Shatila camps with piles of dead bodies, an addition that was not necessary.  The film is released by Sony Classics and will open in New York in December. For inquiries about DVDs which may not be available until next year call Sony at 212 833 8833.

Claus Mueller
New York Correspondent
Cell 347 210 6758

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