Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flick of The Day: Waltz With Bashir

Our first animated flick of the day is this 2008 film from Israeli film maker Ari Folman, Waltz With Bashir. It is part documentary, part personal memoir, examining the events that unfolded one night in September of 1982 in two Beirut refugee camps that would soon become known throughout the world, Sabra and Shatila. 
In 2006, Ari Folman met an old friend from his Army service days who told him about the nightmares he has of those days, the darkest of the Lebanon War. In a vivid scene he describes his nightmares, in which he is chased through the streets by 26 vicious dogs.  This surprises Folman, as he has no memory of the period, bad or otherwise. That night as he sleeps, he has a dream himself. He is walking from the sea with his fellow soldiers as flares are fired over the city of Beirut. This inspires him to investigate his past, to find out what it is that he has forgotten. He travels around the world, meeting old friends and acquaintances from that period trying to fill in the gaps. Piece by piece, the story comes together and we see what he saw in Lebanon resulting in a shocking conclusion that will surely haunt him for the rest of his days. The film ends with actual news footage of that day with no comment, no music and is an incredibly powerful coda.
If there were any doubt that animation held the power to tackle substantive and adult issues then this film will sweep them away. Animation is just as valid an art form as any other, and is not only for the entertainment of children. A story like this would be almost impossible to film normally without a major Hollywood budget and even then it is doubtful whether the tale could be told with such vigour.  The animation is sharp and bright and it moves along at the pace of the investigative thriller it is.  The ending when it comes, is shocking and revealing. For those unfamiliar with the events of Sabra and Shatila, they were refugee camps populated by Palestinian families fleeing the civil war and by September of 1982, the two camps were under the protection of the Israeli Defence Forces. On September 14th, the Christian President of Lebanon,  Bachir Gemayel was assassinated. This enraged his supporters who mistakenly believed his murder to be the work of the Palestinians, when in reality it was orchestrated by Syrian agents. They sought revenge and the nearest target were the refugees supposedly under the protection of the Israelis. However, under the direct orders of Ariel Sharon, the Israel Defence Minister, the Christians were allowed to enter the camps and told the Palestinians were responsible  for the assassination. While the Israeli soldiers stood by, they massacred 3,000 men, women and children.
The imagery is brilliantly entertaining throughout, often viewing events through the innate psychedelia of the human mind. I think Folman achieves his goal of getting a message across by creating a film that is always entertaining, never po faced. While dealing with a harrowing event in a sober manner, it manages to be gripping throughout and until the final frame wears its subject matter lightly. This is art of the highest form.
A great film from the first to the last, and a personal triumph for Ari Folman. This is something that you should see.  Folman trusts his viewers enough to let us see Sabra and Shatila through his eyes and in the final scenes shocks us with the truth.

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