Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Film Review: Waltz with Bashir: Responsible Dreams

On Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir

"We were the Nazis."


[D]ream-images are often rapidly forgotten although they are known to have been vivid, whereas, among those that are retained in the memory, there are many that are very shadowy and unmeaning. Besides, in the waking state one is wont to forget rather easily things that have happened only once, and to remember more readily things which occur repeatedly." — Sigmund Freud
Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman's Cannes-nominated Waltz with Bashir (2008) is a cinematic standout for many reasons. Genre-wise, it is a unique sort of animated, fictional docu-psycho-autobiography. It also features a well-crafted plot of mystery, anticipation, and discovery (which will not be completely spoiled here) with a first-rate soundtrack that is an important character in itself. Most of all, the film is a brave grappling with the responsibility for genocide from the point of view of an individual, an Israeli veteran thinking under the weight of the Holocaust.1

Waltz with Bashir's opening is a remarkable one — twenty-six wild dogs bounding down the street, frothing at the mouth, trampling everything in their path, but also passing some humans by and fixing on a particular target to tree. It is disturbing, moving, and also a kind of symbolic foreshadowing.

That opening flows into the primary scene triggering the entire plot, a conversation between two Israeli military veterans. One, Boaz, is tormented by nightmares about these dogs, which he relates to his service at the time of the Sabra and Chatila massacres of the 1982 Lebanese war and his own responsibility therein. The nightmares have driven him into psychotherapy. Nervously puffing his cigarette, slamming his drink, and tapping his foot, he asks his friend "Ari Folman," the focal character of the film and a successful filmmaker, if he isn't haunted by the war and the massacres. Strangely, Folman doesn't remember anything at all about this gloomy chapter of human history. The problem is he was supposedly there, or at least very near. Why do the dogs pass him by and go after Boaz? Why don't they pursue Folman? The rest of the film involves the filmmaker-veteran's attempt to recover his memory of what happened, where he was, what he saw, what he did. Continue