January 7, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

I finally caught the Israeli cause celebre Waltz with Bashir here in Christchurch on the last day of 2008. The Academy has been running this once a day in one of its tiny digital cinemas -- a screen and nine armchairs in a space half the size of my lounge. Outside, Christchurch was sweltering hot and deathly quiet; halfway across the world, a war was getting started. Perfect conditions. Ari Folman’s animated documentary – is that a first? – is a personal resolution of his small role in an atrocity committed during Israel’s war with Lebanon in 1982: hundreds or perhaps thousands of Palestinian refugees were murdered by Israel’s Phalangist Christian allies while – so the film tells us – Israeli soldiers stood on the sidelines and lit the scene for them with flares. This atrocity has been a blockage in Folman’s memory, which he slowly circles around as he interviews former soldiers and others, and its depiction comes at the end of a film which has worked up a level of pop-stylised animation -- the fantasies, dreams and hallucinations of young soldiers; the Ballard-like surrealism of an abandoned, bombed airport in Beirut – only to suddenly and audaciously give way to actual news footage of the event. We’re pulled out of animation’s communal dream-state into real suffering, real anguish. Before this, it had seemed that Folman was trying to get around our over-exposure to war-and-terror imagery, its over-familiarity post-Apocalypse Now and Black Hawk Down – at least two people compare their experiences of fighting to film and TV, and another to an acid trip – so this sudden switch of medium makes the aftermath of the massacre twice as shocking.