Film 2009 #20 – Waltz With Bashir

Waltz With Bashir (2008)
Directed by Ari Folman

In 1982 Israel invaded Southern Lebanon, citing an assassination attempt on their U.K. ambassador as the impetus. The conflict brought them up against the PLO, Muslim Lebanese forces, and Syrians. Working with the Israelis were the Lebanese Phalangists. The Phalangists claimed secularism but are mainly supported by Maronite Christians, a sect of the Catholic Church founded in Syria in the 7th century. This mad cluster of forces came together for a bloody war that increased in intensity with the assassination of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel. The Phalangists, incredibly loyal to Bashir, culminated the war with the Sabra and Shatila massacres, where Palestinians families were bombed and those that survived the bombing where then lined up against walls and executed by firing squad.

This is the waking nightmare Ari Folman finds himself sinking into. The film begins with a meeting in 2006 between Ari and a friend. The friend has begun having horrific dreams about his participation in the 1982 First Lebanon War. This pushes repressed memories of Ari’s participation into the fore of his consciousness and the movie unfolds from there. Ari learns through interviews with friends he served with about what happened during their tour and how they were complicit in the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Ari has a recurring vision of three naked young men emerging from the water at night and walking towards the shore where an urban landscape is lit by flares, falling like stars from the sky. Once in the city they find themselves overcome by screaming grieving Palestinian women. In the climax of the film Ari has finally sorted these memories out and we see what really happened and why he is haunted by these images.

What sets Waltz With Bashir apart from a standard documentary or war film is that it is made from a combination of standard cel animation, 3D computer animation, flash animation, and rotoscoping (animating over live action film). This allows director Folman a freedom that his small budget would not have allowed for a live action film. Complex battle scenes are recreated with ease but also without losing their weight and depth. The animation also aids in creating the nightmarish tone Folman wants to wash over us. If the roots of this war don’t come across in the film, that is intentional. We’re seeing the events from the eyes of a 19 year old boy who doesn’t understand what is happening other than it is his legal duty as a citizen of Israel to serve in the military. The film is a definite descendant of Apocalypse Now, even paying homage to that masterwork with a scene of lounging soldiers on the beach including one surfing as bombs fall.

There are so many scenes that create a sense of the bizarre and senseless. One soldier recounts becoming sick to his stomach over the side of a boat the night before the invasion. After the young man blacks out, he dreams of a giant naked woman swimming to the boat, cradling him in her arms and swimming away with him as his unit is bombed. In another scene, a soldier recounts the slaughter house the Phalangists created from the Palestinians they slew. The camera is low to the ground as we float across dead earth littered with rotting gnarled trees, corpses, and eyes and ears floating in formaldehyde jars.

Waltz With Bashir is a very timely film during this current incarnation of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It reminds us that it’s not the men on the ground on either side for us to blame, but the men at the top who give the orders and expect mindless allegiance whose hands are drenched in blood. It was reported that this film received a 20 minute standing ovation at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Ari Folman won a 2008 Golden Globe for this film and in his acceptance speech mentioned that over the course of making it eight babies were born. He said he had a particular hope for those eight children: “I hope that one day when they grow up that they watch this film together and they see the war that takes place in the film like an ancient video game that has nothing to do with their lives whatsoever.”


Film 2009 #173 – Homicide

Homicide (1991)
Directed by David Mamet
Starring Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy, Rebbecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, Ving Rhames

The film starts out regular enough. A group of police officers and their higher ups discuss how they will bring in Robert Randolph, a drug dealer and cop killer who is somewhere in the city. Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna), one of the homicide detectives speaks up and garners the ire of one of the officials who refers to him as a “kike”. Gold shrugs it off despite his partner’s (William H. Macy) anger. This event sets up who Bobby Gold is and how he views his ethnic heritage.

The plot diverges from our expectations when, on the way to apprehending Randolph, Gold is stopped by an officer who has responded to the murder of an elderly candy story owner. Gold learns very quickly that the old woman was a Jew and an immigrant decades earlier from Israel. Now, torn between two cases, Gold is stretched thinner and thinner. His main duty, bringing in Randolph fades, as he becomes more and more convinced that the candy store murder was anti-Semitic and that there is a conspiracy behind it.

Writer/director Mamet is still feeling himself out in the film medium with this third picture. His primary work is connected to the stage and it shows in the way he films Homicide. There are a few drawn out scenes that make use of set design and his dialogue displays his trademark sense of artifice. Paranoia is interwoven more heavily as the film progresses, and Mamet presents a riff on his con game plot by causing the audience to question if there is even a conspiracy occurring at all. I also began to note that Mamet’s dialogue and paranoiac tendencies cause his films to develop an almost fantastical sheen over their surfaces. The city is never named adding to that other worldliness and Gold induction into a secret city underworld mimics that of the archetypal adventurer becoming aware of the existence of the Other-world.

Despite all of the Mamet-ness, this stands as one of his more accessible works. The language is restrained from some of his more frenetic (see Oleanna). The film works as an engaging surface level examination of the conflict cultural heritage and duty to the society as a whole can cause.

Current 10 Favorite Films Seen This Year…So Far

1.Waltz With Bashir
2.Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
3.Synecdoche, New York
4.Harlan County, USA
6.Inglourious Basterds
7.World’s Greatest Dad
10.In the Loop

There are quite a few films I haven’t gotten to see yet this year, but probably will by January. Thus, this list will surely shift and change by then. In the meantime, I was digging through The Archives and here’s my top 10 favorite films watched from 2005 to the present:

1. Paris, Texas (1984, dir. Wim Wenders)
2. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, dir. Sergio Leone)
3. The Long Goodbye (1973, dir. Robert Altman)
4. 21 Grams (2003, dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
5. Buffalo ’66 (1998, dir. Vincent Gallo)
6. Lenny (1974, dir. Bob Fosse)
7. Elephant (2003, dir. Gus Van Sant)
8. The Sweet Hereafter (1997, dir. Atom Egoyan)
9. The Saddest Music in the World (2003, dir. Guy Maddin)
10. The Ruling Class (1972, dir. Peter Medak)

1. Days of Heaven (1979, dir. Terence Malick)
2. Don’t Look Now (1973, dir. Nicholas Roeg)
3. Barry Lyndon (1975, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
4. Seconds (1966, dir. John Frankenheimer)
5. Sexy Beast (2000, dir. Jonathan Glazer)
6. Yojimbo (1961, dir. Akira Kurosawa)
7. Brick (2005, dir. Rian Johnson)
8. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976. dir. Nicholas Roeg)
9. sex, lies, and videotape (1989, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
10. Amores Perros (2000, dir. Alejandro Innaritu)

1. No Country For Old Men (2007, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
2. Sweeney Todd (2007, dir. Tim Burton)
3. All About My Mother (1996, dir. Pedro Almodovar
4. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro)
5. Lawrence of Arabia (1963, dir. David Lean)
6. The Third Man (1949, dir. Carol Reed)
7. The King of Comedy (1983, dir. Martin Scorsese)
8. Seconds (1966, dir. John Frankenheimer)
9. I’m Not There (2007, dir. Todd Haynes)
10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007, dir. Sidney Lumet)

1. There Will Be Blood (2007, dir. PT Anderson)
2. The Wrestler (2008, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
3. Children of Men (2006, dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
4. Funny Games (2008, dir. Michael Haenke)
5. The Dark Knight (2008, dir Christopher Nolan)
6. Blindness (2008, dir. Fernando Meirelles)
7. Timecrimes (2007, dir. Nacho Vilagando)
8. Let The Right One In (2008, dir. Tomas Alfredson)
9. The Fall (2006, Tarsem Singh)
10. Milk (2008, dir. Gus van Sant)