“Good morning Lebanon”
2008 has become a very odd year for foreign films. I like to think that it is a testament to the quality of movies coming over internationally that has caused this problem of picking those worthy of awards. One of only two Oscar nominees that mirrored the noms from the Golden Globes is ואלס עם באשיר [Waltz with Bashir]. It’s not much of a surprise that this is one of the holdovers being that it won the prize at the Globes and is probably the heavy favorite to win the Oscar as well. There is something to be said about that, as it is not only a pseudo-documentary, but also animated. Sure the rotoscoping style is like that of A Scanner Darkly and not anything like a children’s film, however, it still intrigues to be such a frontrunner, yet not in the documentary or animation categories. It’s a wonderful feat by director Ari Folman, putting his memories and those of others in the 1982 Lebanon War on full display. The remorse of whatever role they might have or not have played in the Sabra and Shatila massacres is never glossed over. These men either have vivid recollections or strong repressed dreams of what happened in that defining moment of their lives.
It all begins when our lead, Folman himself, meets an old friend at a bar who proceeds to tell him of a recurring nightmare, one that involves his being haunted by the 26 dogs he killed in the war. The rest of his group knew he wouldn’t be able to kill a human being so they told him to take out the animals, and even those left an indelible mark on his psyche. Besides finding out Boaz’s dream interpretation, the exchange really becomes the impetus of the film. Folman, never having any bad dream or memory of that period in his life, returns home and experiences a surrealistic vision of he and a friend, Carmi Can’an, bathing in the water as the flares light up the sky, the two of them slowly exiting, getting dressed, and walking out of the town. This becomes the one incident that Folman can grasp onto about his inclusion in the fight, yet when confronting his friend, finds out that it may never have happened. Carmi, (who at one point tells the filmmaker that he can draw him but not take video), seems to have not wanted to be involved in the movie as someone else voices his character. I haven’t done research on this subject, but from the comment about videotaping, I imagine he declined and hasn’t since passed away.
The fact that Folman has this vision, though, must mean something, even if it never happened, so he decides to speak with his psychologist. This man tells him that while the event never occurred in reality, it doesn’t mean that it never took place. To Folman, that night in the water becomes a way of telling himself that he was there, but not involved. It’s deduced that perhaps his mind, conflicted with the fact that his parents were in Auschwitz and yet he participated in another genocide, only this time on the side of murderer, has covered his involvement with a manifested picture, hiding his guilt from coming to the surface. As Folman speaks with more people involved in the battle, though, that memory begins to come into focus and he finally remembers what happened that night. It’s all shown on screen, along with the aftermath. And it is a powerful sequence watching these men partake in a massacre, never fully understanding what part they played until it was all over.
Being something that depicts events that were not documented visually, the use of animation works perfectly. Events could be recreated and then made into drawings, adding in the special effects and scenery to make it look and feel like Lebanon in 1982. It is a process that saves money from needing to set explosions and dress up existing locales to stand in for Beirut, etc. Also, being that the pivotal moment from Folman’s mind is a dream, we are able to see it just as vividly as any other scene of reality. Don’t worry, though, just because it is animated does not make it any less graphic or true. All the blood is still there as well as the utter destruction the Israeli’s left in their wake. A huge disregard for anything is depicted as tanks just run into buildings as they attempt to turn a street corner or guns are shot into areas not caring what the bullets may hit. One sequence follows the numerous attempts at taking out a vehicle driving down the road. The Israelis or Phalangists constantly miss it, but never stop, bombing everything and destroying whatever is nearby without a second thought.
Some of the firsthand accounts are pretty amazing to hear. I especially enjoyed Ronny Dayang’s account of an ambush and how he was left hiding behind a rock until nightfall when he swam to the opposite shore, only to find the regiment that abandoned him. It is actually quite fascinating hearing all these stories of remorse and guilt being that it is an Israeli film showing the Israeli side of the war. But it is the 19-20 year olds that are reminiscing, the boys told to not only kill, but to also probably die. I think the most obvious moment that shows how planned out the massacre was comes from reporter Ron Ben-Yishai, a man that walked the frontlines without fear as his cameraman crawled on the ground. He relates about how he called a high official about the rumors of the Palestinian genocide, and the response he got was, “did you see anything?” When the answer was not firsthand, he was told, “thanks for bringing it to our attention.” I’d be very interested to hear what lie he would have spun if Ben-Yishai said yes. This was retaliation for the assassination of the president-elect Bashir, the Christian man set to lead Lebanon. His death sparked the destruction at the hands of the Phalangist Christians, using the Israelis as accomplices to get their blood. There was no stopping it.
ואלס עם באשיר [Waltz with Bashir] 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
Photos by Ari Folman and David Polonsky, © 2008, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.