I would never confuse watching a film (though a documentary might be a different matter) with a historical book or artefact in a museum. I always say throwaway comments like ‘films are a great way to gain an insight into another culture.’ Or, that they are a great way of learning about something new, generally. But they are not a replacement for cold hard facts.
What I mean when I say they open up audiences to new ideas and cultures, is exactly why I think everyone should watch Waltz with Bashir. Everyone. With only the news to gain a small insight into the death and destruction around the globe, our views become blinkered. Our views become their views, or the polar opposite. We either agree or disagree. Western societies need multiple avenues in which to digest this information, to gain perspective and not become cyborgs staring at a screen and believing whatever we are told.
Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir, as you can tell from the above image, is an animation. It’s not Studio Ghibli and American Psycho (2000) looks more like Disney that this film. It’s a documentary made by Ari Folman, a soldier in the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon war (which I never even knew happened). When he can no longer ignore a nightmare he has had for two years, he comes to the realisation he has significant memory loss from his days as a soldier. Spurred on my a psychiatrist friend, he seeks out people that knew him at the time to piece the story together.
The real life people don’t voice their 2D characters but actors step in, keeping the identity of the participants anonymous. The participants include a successful businessman living in the Netherlands, a TV reporter and weary soldiers with a certain level of amnesia just like Folman. It’s clear that using animation only heightened the fact that this is not a subject people can talk about freely. WWI and II veterans have cried their heart out in front of TV cameras for years, but this subject is still not a safe one.
Besides from the obvious issues like no footage existing from the stories the ex-soldiers tell, the medium opens up to illustrating the feel of the time and place. 1980s rock and classical music flow through the scenes and even influence the character’s movements. The colours switch from white backgrounds and lively colours to mustard yellows and khaki greens of the explosion gas and army uniforms. This story did not need realism to make an effect on it’s audience. It’s horrific enough to compromise on that one factor.
The title, since you’re probably wondering, is named after Bashir Gemayel. He was elected President of Lebanon in 1982, right when the country was a disaster zone. The Waltz describes the way in which one of the interviewees moved as he sought to defend himself surrounded by heavy gunfire. You could also make the comparison of a political waltz, but personally I read it a different way. Using a dance to describe the inception and execution of this war is to highlight it’s ridiculousness. I don’t take using the word ‘ridiculous’ to describe a war lightly, but sometimes that’s what it can feel like. Pointless, careless, ridiculous.
Ari Folman’s memory does come back in the end, more or less, and he thinks he has cracked the reason for his memory loss in the first place. PTSD must be horrific for anyone in any situation to go through, but interestingly it’s not about Ari, it’s bigger than that. The movie ends on real life footage from a huge massacre that took place during the Lebanon war, and fades out on a small boy. Wouldn’t you want to forget your involvement in that, too?
Back to my first point about history. This is one man’s account from a war he could barely remember, pieced together from people who may want to hide facts or are suffering from their own PTSD. Watching this film didn’t allow me to learn a lot about the 1982 Lebanon War, but at least I now know it exists.
Have you ever watched Waltz in Bashir? Did it move you as much as it did me?