Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Waltz with Bashir: dance with death

Waltz with Bashir is an animation with a difference: a personal, political, psychological documentary about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel and the massacre of Palestinians refugees by local militia.

The story is based on writer/director Ari Folman’s experiences as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon. It explores the recollections of other soldiers in an attempt to resolve his own blocked memories. These relate in particular to the massacres of Palestinians in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian Phalangist militia.

The Israeli army were unwitting participants at best, as they guarded the perimeter of the camps and provided flares to light the phalangist attacks. Ariel Sharon who later became Prime Minister was held personally responsible and sacked as Israeli Defence Minister.

The power of our minds to dim or completely remove real memories or to create others which are false is a central theme.

The title ‘Waltz with Bashir’ refers to one soldier’s bizarre dance with death under sniper fire. Behind him is a large poster of Bashir Gemayel. He was a senior commander of the Phalangists militia who became President of Lebanon. His assassination was a catalyst for the massacres.

The director of animation Yoni Goodman has created a unique atmosphere, with dream-like motion at times. The animators used illustrations hand-drawn from video. The official website explains the process used in detail. It took 4 years to complete.

The original music by Max Richter reinforces the dark, disturbing tones of the animation.

The final scenes, which use actual footage, are horrific in the extreme. Not only does the film leave us with more questions about war and the dark side of humanity. It places the rise of Hizbollah, the 2006 Israeli/Lebanon conflict and the continuing violent internal Lebanese politics in context. One that is not likely to change while hate rules the heart.

For the At the Movies interview with Ari Folman and their film review, please visit their website.