FILM REVIEW: Waltz With Bashir

Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary about memory and the way it can be suppressed to protect a person from the pain of the past.
FILM REVIEW: Waltz With Bashir
Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary about memory and the way it can be suppressed to protect a person from the pain of the past. The documentary deals with filmmaker Ari Folman’s search for the truth about an elusive segment of his past" he knows he was present at a massacre but he remembers nothing about it. However, Folman can recall some of his experiences in the Israeli Army, such as riding in a tank singing ‘If I came close to death I couldn’t say, we bombed Beirut every day’ to a throbbing soundtrack. But this is getting too far ahead. The murky politics of the Middle East weave forever backwards and the film does not make it easy to get your bearings. So who the hell is Bashir? It is 1982, the time of the first Lebanese War. Bashir Gemayel was a Christian Phalangist, an ally of Ariel Sharon (Defense Minister of Israel at the time) and the President- Elect of Lebanon. He was assassinated in a bomb blast (thought to have been organised by the Syrian Intelligence, purportedly because he was about to open diplomatic relations with Israel) a month before he was meant to take office. As an act of revenge for the assassination of Bashir, Christian Phlangist Militia entered the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Sabra and Shatila, on the outskirts of Beirut. Here, on September 15 and 16, 1982, somewhere between 700 and 3500 Palestinians, men, women and children, were massacred. The Israeli Defense Force circled the camps to ‘give cover’ to the Phalangists, but did not take part in the killing. This is the event that filmmaker Folman has been searching for. He talks to his best friend, a psychiatrist, tracks down his fellow soldiers from this time and visits a Post Trauma Stress Disorder Expert. Slowly some memories start to surface. They are fragmented and painful as is the whole film; is it a film about memory? Or responsibility? An antiwar film? There is enough pain for everyone in this film – the killers, the killed, the watchers and us, the audience. What makes this film interesting is the unusual technique used to present it in animation. Figures have been photographed and then recreated. "We drew it again from scratch with the great talent of art director David Polonsky and his three assistants.", said Ari Folman. This process makes the screen images look real but at the same time they are saturated in fantastic colours. It is this that gives the film its’ surreal look. The most striking thing about Waltz with Bashir was the unconscious irony of the use of the word "animation.” No one we see is animated; they all seem half dead. As a film it is sad rather than powerful, and that is its message.

Patricia Johnson

Thursday 8 January, 2009

About the author

Patricia Johnson has a long standing interest in the arts and holds a Diploma in Creative Writing from Curtin University. Patricia has had several poems and short stories published. Currently she is also a reviewer for ArtsHub Australia.