Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Waltz with Bashir

Reviews - Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir

Reviewed By John Stakes

Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir
Last Sunday’s screening of director Ari Folman’s acclaimed 18 certificated animation film of events leading up to the massacres in two Palestinian refugee camps at the height of the 1982 Lebanon war was arguably the most powerful piece of animated cinema in the club’s history, and brought its 2008-2009 season to a memorable close.

“Waltz with Bashir” was a very personal film for Folman and not merely because its director also wrote the screenplay and produced it. By 2003 Folman had already notched up 22 years as a serving soldier or reservist having begun his military career at age 19 when the Lebanese conflict was at its height. During the same period he had also honed his screenplay skills writing army information films. But his memories of these early shocking events had remained repressed and locked away in the recesses in his mind until his decision to meet up with his then contemporaries and to reconstruct his and their involvement through the medium of film. It was for him a very personal mission because, when seeking in 2003 to be released from the requirement as a reservist to serve at least one month per year, Folman was told to consult a therapist as precondition to his release having been diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

For Folman animation was the obvious and only method by which the startling and shocking images in his mind’s eye could be unlocked and filmed and by which the hallucinatory effect which the horrors of war can play on the mind could best be expressed. Far more could be conveyed by this means than by any attempted reconstruction through say drama-documentary or a simple trawl through archive footing. Given the public’s collective fatigue over the wider and seemingly interminable Middle East conflict it would have been an almost impossible task to have generated sufficient cinematic interest over events going back over 27 years if more formal film-making techniques had been used. As Folman himself put it “war is like a really bad acid trip and this was the only way to show that”.

The result was a fusion of personal stories portrayed graphically and grippingly using the real voices of the participants with an emotional clout which belied the low-tech style of the two-dimensional animation. The powerful impact of the opening sequence of the pack of snarling dogs was maintained throughout to the film’s newsreel reality climax in the death camps. In the course of Folman’s journey of self discovery we learned that he was a member of the Israeli army deployed to send up flares, at the request of the Phalangists, to illuminate the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps when Christian Phalangist gunmen took revenge for the assassination of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel.

So outraged were the Israeli population over their leaders’ endorsement and support of the Phalangists that over ten per cent of the population took to the streets of Tel Aviv in protest arguably making this the largest ever political demonstration. Ariel Sharon who was the then Defence Minister was charged with personal responsibility for the massacres and accused of being unfit for office. This did not stop him however from becoming Prime Minister 19 years later! Folman is insistent that he and his comrades remained ignorant of the significance and purpose of the flares until the truth came out.

Folman demonstrated beyond question (as did Marjane Strapesi with “Persepolis” screened earlier) just how effective animation can be in creating imagery which lingers in the mind long after the final credits have rolled, which in this case elevated the film to an Oscar contender for Best Film, a category in which animation rarely ( if ever? ) has featured. Last Sunday’s audience voted his film amongst the very best of what has been another notable and stimulating season.

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19th Keswick Film Festival

22nd-25th February 2018


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