Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vals Im Bashir: Creating Memories of the Real




“Believing a film or any kind of documentary is a very subjective method. You can pretend that you do the most objective kind of film, [that] your truth is the absolute truth, but there is nothing objective in filmmaking whatsoever...” -Ari Folman, 2008

Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir) is a 2008 animated film written and directed by Ari Folman. It depicts Folman in search of his lost memories from the 1982 Lebanon War. The film opens with the recurring nightmare of Folman’s old friend in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs, the same number every night. The two friends concluded that this has a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War. Folman confessed that he cannot recall anything about the war. Intrigued by the black holes in his memory, he decides to meet and interview old friends and comrades to help him unfold the truth about that time and himself. As he delves deeper into their accounts, the pieces of his lost memory slowly came about and reunited him with his image of the war and the massacres in Sabra and Shatila.

Although the film makes no overt claim to be an accurate historical account of the 1982 Lebanon War, its style of presentation which resembles that of a documentary through the use of multiple interviews, leads ill-informed audience into seeing the film as one. With this, the film does a significant disservice to the audience as it is misleading and deceivingly believable. The narrative is far too personal, fragmentary, subjective and is somewhat historically inaccurate to provide the absolute truth of what occurred during the conflict. Vast chunks of vital information about the war and the massacre are omitted in the film such as the negotiations between Israel Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon and Maronite Phalange party paramilitary leader, Bashir Gemayel regarding the Israeli Defense Force’s invasion to uproot the PLO threat to Israel and move them out of Lebanon. Another missing element is the effect of the war on the people of Lebanon. Viewers may not at all be left with the astonishing scale of death and destruction that the invasion inflicted upon Lebanon and its people. A further stunning omission is the failure to include any account of the evacuation of the PLO and its fighters from the camps, and from Beirut in general. The PLO fighters abandoned their camps in August which set the stage for the massacre in September with the Palestinian civilians left undefended. There are also inaccurate and false depictions in the film, one of which is the illustration of West Beirut particularly in its emphasis on ubiquitous portraits of Bashir Gemayel. West Beirut, apparently, was the stronghold of opposition to his Phalange party and militia. Waltz with Bashir limits itself to the personal narratives of Folman and the interviewees; hence it cannot be a completely reliable and objective account of the 1982 Lebanon War.

But to better appreciate the film, we shall consider first the suspension of disbelief to focus on the brilliance of the film rather than on the accuracy and truthfulness of its narrative. Waltz with Bashir is a psychodrama, more than it is a documentary, focusing on the long-term traumatic effects of the war on some of the soldiers, most of who were only in their teenage years when they serviced in the military. It is an extended rumination on the process of personal and historical suppression of memories especially by those who had already adjusted well. This is very evident in Folman as he claims to have no memory of the war. This is not unique to Folman however, for this is a shared stipulation of people caught in a post-war struggle. And as one strives to retrieve these memories, the mind may not be completely reliable for it has a propensity to convey distortions caused by retrospective memories based on events that never happened and are only imagined. Like what Ori Sivan had stated, “If some details are missing, memory fills the holes with things that never happened.” Folman, for example, is haunted by this certain vision of him, Carmi and one other soldier, rising from the sea and approaching the shore as flames of fire pour down from the dark skies. He knew that this may have something to do with the massacre in Sabra and Shatila but he’s confused whether this really happened or if his mind is just making it up. He discussed this with Sivan and they assumed that this image symbolizes the fear he has toward the massacre and that this may have stemmed from another massacre which involves his parents—the holocaust in Auschwitz.

Waltz with Bashir insists on drawing overblown parallels between Nazi Germany and Israel and on the somewhat genocide of the Palestinians by the Christian Phalangists. It even goes so far as to compare Sabra and Shatila to Auschwitz. A specific example to strengthen this parallelism is Ron Ben Yishai’s reference of what he’d seen in the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila massacre to the picture of the Warsaw ghetto with a child raising his hands into the air. This is criticized by some and is seen as promoting anti-Semitism which is pleasing to the Germans alone. “What greater absolution could there be for the horrors inflicted by Germans on Jews during the Second World War than to find that Jews themselves have been complicit in analogous crimes?” (Rosenthal, 2009)

The film, however, is to be commended for its audacity to admit Israeli complicity in the horrible and indiscriminate massacre of Palestine men, women and children in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. It was frank in acknowledging that some Israeli officials were in early possession of detailed information about the ongoing massacre and chose to allow it to continue. Then again, Israeli soldiers like Folman had continuously shot flares to light up the night sky and indirectly facilitate the killings. They were aware that something’s going on—some even witnessed the shooting of the civilians—but chose to remain oblivious for they were complacent and helpless before directives and orders. Moreover, no one took direct responsibility. Feelings of conscience, shame and guilt are there but not the admission.

Carmi relates the account of how they, out of fear and anxiety, incessantly fired at an old Mercedes only to discover that it contained an innocent family. At a very young age, these soldiers had an ambiguous image of the war. They were uncertain of what they were doing but chose to just do as they’re told. In Folman’s recall of the first day of war, they were unceasingly shooting at the field on a tank but didn’t know who they’re shooting at exactly. These young men who should be playing ball and videogames and hanging out in new wave clubs are instead out in the battlefield, confused with what they’re fighting for. They were stripped of their humanity, morality and empathy with all they experienced—shooting and killing, dumping of bodies—in the war. Conversely, the war gives these young men a sense of masculinity—that they are fighters, heroes. This was Carmi’s driving force why he joined the army in the first place.

“I bombed Beirut everyday… at the pull of a finger we can send strangers straight to hell... Sure, we kill some innocent people along the way... If I came close to death I couldn’t say… I bombed Beirut everyday…” This scene showed how they continuously miss their target. It alludes to the soldiers’ dilemma of not knowing the genuine objectives as to why they’re at war. In the same manner, this clip shows how wars inflict harm to the innocent ones. While another scene showed the contrast of what the soldiers are thinking to what they’re doing. They were singing “Good Morning, Lebanon, too much pain to carry on.. Good Morning Lebanon, may your dreams come true, may your nightmares pass… Your existence is a blessing Lebanon…” while appreciating the scenery. Then the next clip shows the same tank carrying the same men now smashing cars and buildings along their way.

In the film, the sea had been repeatedly used to symbolize fear as in the case of Carmi Can’an, Ronny Dayag and Ari Folman. At the same time, women had been depicted as the saving grace for these soldiers. Every time they’re frightened, they seek for the care and comfort of women. While their boat is being fired upon and burnt, Carmi envisioned a giant woman taking her away to a safer place. At the same time, hidden behind a large stone amidst the attacks on his comrades, Ronny Dayag recalls how secure he was in his mother's company.

Waltz with Bashir breaks the notion that animation is just for kids. The power of its visual storytelling, along with its stunningly detailed animation and engaging musical score make it stand high on the lists of the both antiwar and animation films. David Polonsky, Art Director and Illustrator, together with Director of Animation Yoni Goodman have been successful in using a unique style of animation to capture the futility of war boldly. The original score by Max Richter adds an incredible amount of depth and emotional impact to the already challenging imagery. Overall, Waltz with Bashir is with no doubt, one of the most interesting and visually stunning films I’ve ever seen.

Finally, we ask ourselves, was the film effective? Was it able to convey the realities of the 1982 Lebanon War? In reference to the statement of Folman quoted above, a film in its own is very much subjective. The creators and producers of the film may highlight a certain perspective and greatly encroach upon the viewer’s judgment. In other words, it only presents a fraction of the reality and that there’s danger in depending on it entirely. But, as I was going through the cover of the Waltz with Bashir DVD, there in small letters, below the film’s title, are the words “BASED ON A TRUE STORY”. Now does this make the film more real?

References:

Zohar, R.B. (2009). Waltz with Bashir: A Case Study on the Complicity of the Israeli Cultural Industry with Israeli Apartheid. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.badil.org/en/al-majdal/item/18-review-3?tmpl=component&print=1

Gruocho Reviews (2008, December 3). Ari Folman—Waltz with Bashir. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.grouchoreviews.com/interviews/264

The Nation. (2009, March). Commentary on “Waltz with Bashir”. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.e-joussour.net/en/node/2144

Rosenthal, J. (2009, February 18). Waltz with Bashir, Nazi Germany, and Israel. Retrieved July, 25, 2011, from http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/waltz-with-bashir-nazi-germany-and-israel/

Goldman, L. (2009, February 22). Defending Waltz with Bashir. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/defending-waltz-with-bashir/

Slone, J. (2009, March 2). Waltz with Bashir. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://www.endofmedia.com/?p=148

Waltz with Bashir official Website. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://waltzwithbashir.com/

Wikipedia. Bashir Gemayel. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from en.­wikipedia.­org/­wiki/­Bachir_Gemayel

Wikipedia. 1982 Lebanon War. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982_Lebanon_War

BBC News. (Page last updated: 2008, May 6). 1982 Lebanon Invasion. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7381364.stm

- Fiona Arevalo

21 comments:

Liane Candelario said...

Part I

Truth be told, I find the whole experience to be hugely disconcerting precisely because all of the reasons why I find Waltz With Bashir to be laudable are, at the same time, what turned out to be the film’s very own Achilles heel.

Here lies a dichotomy of standards. On one side is the process of being mesmerized by the artistry of it all, while on the other is to be grounded by objective rules of criticizing the film based on its purpose and on how well it has fulfilled any of those. As a significant amount of justification from Ms. Arevalo had pointed out, Waltz With Bashir comes close to a narrative of historical incompetence. The material presented during the Lebanese War and more importantly on the Sabra and Shatila massacres could not possible suffice for the real events that had transpired during the whole tragedy. This seems to go against the very fabric of what a ‘documentary’ is supposed to be as a tool for spreading enlightenment. Having said that, the dilemma for me now is to discern how far I’m willing to forego the historical shortcomings of the movie in exchange for other, more redeeming standards.

Documation. Either I just haven’t heard of such a hybrid style in film-making or this one proved to be truly ground-breaking. Whatever the case is, I find the attempt to be equally fascinating and refreshing. Fascinating because, in this case, I felt being subjected to a new experience altogether. Conventional wisdom on how a documentary is supposed to be chains me to the idea that the lenses should capture raw images from life. But the novelty presented here of trying to mash realism into a medium that is not real to begin gives a rich irony, if not entirely opening up the debate of what characterizes realism to begin with, and if it is really possible to imbed realism into animation- a medium that shy away from reality as a whole. Refreshing too because it has exposed new grounds and possibilities for future documentaries to exploit.

The contestation though would arise if we nuance this to the values inherent to its purpose as a documentary. If my memory serves me right, Ari Folman’s intentions of using animation as a medium has something to do with toning down the violence of the story for a bigger audience and to give a sense of ease for the interviewee’s sake. However successful they seemed to be, the basis for these motives still needs to be questioned. Was it really necessary to tone down violence or to appease people behind key statements so as to mold the story into an animation production? The moment you let an artist translate the face or any given setting into paper, you automatically lose the aspect of an observable reality. In exchange, the film settled to creating allusions (i.e. animating interview scenes in traditional interview format) and hoped that the message would push through. Surprisingly for me, it did. It’s a success in its ability to fully capture the emotional content and pass it along to a viewer as if it’s one’s own. From the torment of the victims to the psychological trauma suffered by foot soldiers like Ari Folman, Waltz With Bashir like any other noted war-documentary prizes itself in its ability to portray the tragedy of a shattered humanity.

Liane Candelario said...

Part II

One cannot help but view it from a completely artistic standpoint. The use of vivid hues and tones of red, yellow and orange brilliantly reinforces the experience of conflict and anguish that has been well pronounced throughout the film. As for the animation itself, it reminds me of a certain drawing style in old fashion newspaper comics or something similar to how DC vs. Marvel Comics were made. Which made me rethink about documation. Yes, it may be new, but it still employs techniques that resembles traditional notions of art (may it be in the form of drawing), something that I believe is what made most people feel comfortable during screenings. Simply speaking, it’s just the old in the new.

The selection of songs too strengthens our imagery of what it must have felt like to be a solder torn between the violence and the chain of command. Being lyrical and resembling that of a merry-making tune (i.e. I bombed Beirut everyday), it creates a stark contrast to what actually happens on the ground. With every word pertaining to destruction and killings, it seemed as if the only form of escape left in those soldiers is to resort to illusions that what they do is nothing more than a verse that’s meant to be repeated easily and without hesitations. That doesn’t mean of course that they can escape the harsh reality. Like Ari Folman, forgetting suited him just fine. Until of course when he realized that knowing the full extent of his identity is more important than shying away from the trauma of it all.#

Margaret Gallardo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret Gallardo said...

Part 2

One point I’d like to make is Ari Folman’s repetitive use of women as the source of comfort of soldiers. In the film, women appear as mere sexual objects to pacify pent-up feelings the soldiers had. One of the scenes involved a naked woman scooping a soldier, approximately twenty times smaller than her, from the boat and making him lie on her stomach as she floats in the sea. The apparent difference in size between man and woman in this scene could represent power that women have over men in the sense that men need women to feel safe and secure. The clichéd sexist argument cannot be helped. What is it with women and comfort?

When Ari returns after the war, he realizes, to his dismay, that the people he fought for during the war were oblivious to both the internal and external affairs of their country. They were wasting away in clubs doing absolutely nothing to make the soldiers feel welcome and appreciated. Unfortunately, this scenario and attitude is familiar and has been continuously plaguing the old and youth alike. This part of the film converges with reality. In the last few minutes of the film, the audience is given the shock of their lives as actual footage of the Palestinian massacre is shown. Media, indeed, plays an important role in covering these events. The journalist who was fearlessly walking upright amidst the flying bullets could represent the strength, courage and determination it takes to bring the truth back to the public.

Nobody wins in a war. It results to mutual destruction; the extent and gravity of which, although arguable, cannot be measured. Ari Folman’s depiction of the 1982 Lebanese War may seem to clash with other more documented narratives of survivors. Despite that, the animated film was able to encapsulate the reality of war and its effects on people, most especially on the soldiers. Some people would say that this film is misleading because it only shows one country’s point of view. Although there is some truth to that statement, the film does not show the country’s collective point of view; instead, it shows that of an individual soldier and his view of the war. Although the film is based on a true story, it is unclear which scenes happened in reality and which scenes were glamorized by Hollywood. The film is both a drama and a documentary not of the Lebanese War but of the experience and effects it had on the soldiers.

Several scenes in the film featured the juxtaposition of classical music and war. This was probably the most appealing part of the film for me. How so? Simple. Classical music is usually associated with serene, tranquil environments that supposedly make a person calmer and more relaxed. To associate that kind of music with something as violent and heart wrenching as war is brilliantly unsettling. It certainly helps that the animation incorporates several elements such as shadows, lighting and various facial expressions to mimic the real world. In doing so, the artists have successfully conveyed a message, albeit varied, to the viewers.

Is Waltz With Bashir a massacre of a massacre? I think not. It is an allegory of all sorts. Ari Folman was able to relay his story and experiences to the audience in such a way which elicits reactions and emotions not all of which are pleasant. All in all, I am happy to say the film has exceeded my expectations. Waltz with Bashir is a film I will definitely look forward to viewing again.

Juan Carlo Tejano said...

I refuse to believe that the film’s major flaw is in its non-objective or even inaccurate account of the 1982 Lebanon War. In fact, this is precisely what the film is trying to avoid: In its attempt to convey the psychological mess associated with traumatic experiences such as war, the film must necessarily be personal, subjective, and perhaps even inaccurate. Here the opening scene of the film becomes extremely salient, powerful, and meaningful. The film opens with a scene of a dream – an inherently inaccurate and often fictional personal experience of the human psyche. In fact, in dreams, we often find an intra-subjectively agreed upon depiction of reality, of truth.

Taking the salience of Folman’s dream, this is therefore the message of the film in relation to the Lebanon War: That the war meant different things to different people in different settings and at different times. This has been so eloquently expressed by Folman through the documation: His interviewees said different things, and even his 2008 self has a different account and interpretation of the war compared to his 1982 self. Moreover, often, in such traumatic experiences of moral confusion like war, our psyche toys with us to keep us going – to keep us from burdening ourselves with asking the big questions of ethics and morality. In truth, this is not unusual or limited to such experiences. The negotiations that transpire between our memories and objective reality are present in our everyday lives. For example, I may have been cheating all along as I type this by simply copying the ideas in this comment from a review of the film somewhere online but my memory selects which realities to remember. As such, it will subconsciously fade my cheating into the unimportant department of my memory system or, worse, fade it into being forgotten. In our attempt to fool ourselves that we retain our integrity, humans try to forget those memories that intrigue and challenge our morality and retain only those that keep us happy, those that keep us believing that we are wholly moral, that we are not evil. Thus the real war is between one’s real and imagined integrity; the real war is between one’s reality and memory.

The film therefore is not at all at fault in its inaccurate storytelling of the 1982 Lebanon War because it was never meant to tell the story of the war. It was meant to tell the story of Folman’s mind, of his psyche, and the negotiations between his memory and reality. It could have been any war; in fact, it could have been any experience in Folman’s everyday life. The Lebanon War was chosen simply because it presented an extremely controversial and morally salient chapter in Folman’s life but it could have easily been another person’s memory of masturbating to a pornographic film at seven years old or a girl’s memory of being sexually harassed. In short, the 1982 Lebanon War is not the issue – the real issue at hand is Folman’s psychological experience during and after the war.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

royalprincerpineda said...

How well can you trust your own memory in retelling what is the truth? This one question may be the central point of discussion in the documentary film, Waltz with Bashir.

I took delight on the first part of the movie, on that experiment where one is given a picture of himself/herself in a carnival during his/her childhood. But actually, he/she did not go there; his/her childhood picture was just edited with the carnival background. The picture conjured events in the respondent’s mind that actually never took place, because the memory fills in the gaps in details.

But the main character of the film, Folman, could not fill in that large gap in his mind. To what extent was his participation in the 1982 Lebanon War? What was his role in the massacre? He searched for his “lost self” through his friends. He slowly recovered his memory that perhaps was pushed back by dissociation, a term in psychology that can be defined as the tendency of a person to forget traumatic events in his/her life.

There goes his friend, Boaz, who suffered from recurring nightmares of 26 dogs. There goes Carmi, a comrade in the military service. There goes Frenkel, who danced the ‘insane waltz’ in a clash with their enemies on the battlefield. They attested to Folman’s presence and participation in the war. And indeed, the war wasn’t just a creation of his imagination; it really happened.

I commend the movie for its ingenious presentation of the material. The animation of almost the whole movie made me feel at ease while watching it, despite its being a story about the brutalities and the harshness of war. In addition, an uninformed spectator may even put the title of the film in line with those of Disney or Nickelodeon without discriminating its adult and violent content. However, no matter how the makers disguise the film’s heaviness through hues of yellow and gray and animations, the fact that it did happen will never change. As news footage of the Shabra and Shatila massacre was juxtaposed to the animated portion of the film, viewers would realize that the event occurred, even if Folman could not remember it.

The film can be situated to a larger context. As Ms. Arevalo mentioned, the parallelism between the Holocaust and the genocide on the Palestinians by the Christian Phalangists can be drawn. Are the Jews no better than the Germans in committing such horrendous crimes? Who should be held accountable to the killings? What are the other possible implications of the genocide to the Palestinians, to those who participated in the killings, such as Folman, and even to other societies in the world? Perhaps, Folman’s dissociation was already his response to it.

Still, we cannot blame the film for its historical inaccuracies. I think the filmmaker’s objective is to present his own account of what transpired in his life, since what is real isn’t 100% real after all. There are some details that were just created of a mind that always needs to fill in the gaps, and the rest was renegotiated with his existence and with other people’s.

-Roldan P. Pineda

Bulawi said...

Waltz with Bashir is a pseudo-documentary account, in the sense that it told what can be deemed the truth from the point of view and understanding of only a certain group of people, of the horrors of the First Lebanon War including the Shabra and Shatila massacre. The film is narrated from the point of view of Ari Folman and his comrades who served under the Israeli flag in the said war. At the beginning of the film, it was apparent that the war was a blank spot in Folman’s memory, with him having no recollection of the said conflict save for his recurring nightmares. He then decides to piece back what he has lost by visiting his former comrades and interviewing them. He eventually remembers what happened through the accounts of his friends, including his role at the kill zone in the massacres.

The fact the Waltz with Bashir is a pseudo-documentary excuses, for a great part, its historical inaccuracies and omissions as the film is told from the eyes of an infantryman who sought to regain his memories of the war from his fellow soldiers. As such, details such as the negotiations between the Defense Minister and the paramilitary leader could be acknowledged something that occurred outside the knowledge of the soldiers at the time of the conflict. Still, the fact that they continued to fight points to the idea that these soldiers are trained to do as they are told and not to question their orders. If they are ordered to shoot, they shoot, even without knowing their opponents. Given this, it would be forgivable for the film’s inaccuracies as these soldiers could not have had the complete knowledge of what went on outside the battlefield and in the political arena in the time of the war.

The movie also portrays the harsh realities of war. War brings death, destruction, separation, injustice, and chaos upon those involved in and affected by the crossfire. War turns young promising men like Carmi, an aspiring nuclear physicist, pushed into a conflict as soldiers trained to kill, which they eventually do even without knowing who they are fighting. This illustrates war as something which strips men of their morality as they become programmed to obey their superiors even if they are commanded to do acts which conflict against their principles, first, in order to survive; second, to avoid the consequent punishment for disobeying orders. In this context, war partly legitimizes violence as killing a man outside war deems the one responsible a criminal guilty of murder. If one, however, does it in the context of an armed conflict, following the rules of engagement, he is deemed a hero.

Waltz with Bashir is a stunning film, especially in the end where it shows footages of wailing women and children who survived and those who were killed in the massacres. This gives the audience a slice of the horrors caused by war and its pointlessness as the people who didn’t have to but died could have been saved with just one word from the higher ups which goes to show the film’s anti-war stance, a stance most clearly shown throughout the film and especially in the ending.

Reference:
Code Geass R2 episode 18

Manalo

Rosie said...

I disagree with Ms. Arevalo on two points. First, that Waltz With Bashir’s omission of details is a disservice to its audience, and second, that the movie somehow absolves the Germans for their crimes against Jews during the World War II.

I understand where Ms. Arevalo is coming from when she says that Folman's presentation of his memories as a documentary "does a significant disservice to the audience as it is misleading and deceivingly believable. The narrative is far too personal, fragmentary, subjective and is somewhat historically inaccurate to provide the absolute truth of what occurred during the conflict."

My problem with this angle is that she assumes that Folman's aim was to provide absolute truth, the "historically accurate" account of the Lebanon War through Waltz with Bashir. I find it hard to believe that this was the case. The film seems more to me a discussion of the subjectivities of the characters: their negotiations with themselves, with the members of their regiment, and with what happened during the darkest days of his life, while rather ingeniously situating the character within the larger picture. The way the story is told makes this apparent. This is the most striking aspect of the film for me: the medium itself.

Throughout the film I was taking refuge in the animation, glad that I did not have to endure the "real" carnage of the war, very much like Folman himself who was taking refuge in the dream-like quality of his memories - indeed the few that he possessed. But then without warning it shifted to video footage, and all of a sudden it was "real." With that simple move, it conveyed to me another meaning, beyond the experiences of just those few soldiers: that no matter how much we try to hide behind our coping mechanisms, it doesn't change the fact that there is a real world with real consequences. We shield ourselves from trauma by pretending that events are not real or by simply forgetting they ever happened, but the destruction lives on. In this respect this is a very unique anti-war film in that it uses the medium and not the script to deliver the message.

Rosie said...

Second, I don't believe that the movie absolves the war crimes of Germany. I am troubled by the quoted sentence “What greater absolution could there be for the horrors inflicted by Germans on Jews during the Second World War than to find that Jews themselves have been complicit in analogous crimes?” (Rosenthal, 2009) This interpretation seems outrageous to me, and I reacted to it the same way I react to conspiracy theories. I think that Rosenthal came to this conclusion because the massacre at Sabra and Shatila was compared to Auschwitz by one of the characters. But, to take an example closer to home, if Mangudadatu was found to have committed crimes like those of Ampatuan, would that make any of them less guilty? This is where the subjectivity of perception comes in. How you react to a film like this is likely to depend on where you stand, which is perhaps the beauty of it: it teaches you something about yourself as well.

It was once said that no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. This quotation is exactly what Waltz with Bashir presents: a discourse on how this happens and why it does. Wars are shared experiences, but the impact differs. It adds another dimension to how we understand the small players in these situations. It is obviously a highly subjective experience of a very few soldiers of the Lebanon war, but because of that, it gives soldiers a human face.

In the end, Ms. Arevalo asks, does the sentence "Based on a True Story" on the back cover make the film seem more real? In this instance it does not. What makes it real for me are the many, many, omissions in the film, like those she cited. The film is essentially the recreation of memory, and it is realistic because memory omits just as many things. It is impossible to get the absolute truth in any occasion, and in a situation as ambiguous and harrowing as a war, a fragmented account like Waltz with Bashir brings us closer to reality, indeed a little too close to reality for comfort.

Victoria Tiangco said...

Part I


I was left speechless as I try to negotiate what is real amidst a sea of suppressed memories and vivid dreams of Ali Folman, the director of Waltz with Bashir. The film is supposed to be a documentary of a quest for memory and integrity of Folman, as he try to negotiate his involvement in the atrocities committed by Israelites against the Palestinians during the Lebanese War. However, its non-linear narrative filled with different accounts of the memoirs of war and the unrealistic constructions of the memories undermine the factual component of a documentary. Instead of giving light to the incidents of the Lebanese War, the documentary left much room for interpretation and negotiation of meanings. Folman's use of animation in presenting this documentary is controversial yet revolutionary at the same time. One can argue that this method desensitizes the audience from the emotions and events in the film. By doing so, the massacres in Sabra and Shatila camps and the total havoc brought about by the war, become bearable in the eyes of the audience. The pursuit of the Red Mercedez along with the irresponsible firing of tanks with a catchy musical score playing in the background makes it almost comical to watch. This documentary deviates from the traditional notion of what a documentary should be, to capture life as it naturally occurs.

The portrayal of events in the film as if a scene out of a comic book, provides a distancing effect to the audience because of its far resemblance to real life people and everyday occurences. In the first few minutes, I was trying to reconcile the use of animation in a documentary as their combination produces cognitive dissonance in my head. Judging from my standards of what is reality, this film might as well be classified as fiction in its manner and style of presentation. The juxtaposition of the animation and the actual footages of the massacre is purely brilliant and completely harrowing at the same time. For the duration of the animation, Folman let the audience wonder at the musical score and the artistic combinations of hues of grays and yellows. However, we are abruptly brought back to the reality of the atrocities in the war, of either blindly shooting everywhere and anyone, or by standing idly as others are being massacred. The artistic animations were suddenly replaced by actual bodies of the dead and ruins from the war, the playful musical score by heart wrenching wails of mothers and wives as they see the bodies of their dead.

Victoria Tiangco said...

Part II

For the duration of the animation, the audience undergoes a haywire as Folman grapples through the reconstruction of his past that questions his integrity. There are plenty of suppressed memories that manifests themselves in his dreams. I think the 26 dogs chasing him in a recurring nightmare, is the burden of the guilt from the murder of 26 different people, whose faces he remembers until now. He was trying to recover a missing part of his memory during the war, as if the mind abstains Folman from his involvement. Such is the working of our minds, that when something gets too painful or traumatic, it can choose to bury them, as if nothing happened. The beauty of the film is that no matter how we deny reality and represent it as something alien, we cannot escape its gravity. No matter how we try to disguise it in animation and make it seem less distant, reality imposes its presence upon us. The reality of Waltz with Bashir is that Folman could not evade the guilt from his involvement in war. The acceptance of this reality, is a long and painful process as his integrity is haunted by the past.

Memories are constructed image of our realities. We base our identity and wholeness of being- integrity, in our recollection of the past. Waltz with Bashir problematizes this notion of using memories as foundation of our wholeness and identity. This documation is a foray of the imagination and the reality. "If some details are missing, memory fills the holes with things that never happened", a psychologist said. Given this, do we base the entirety of our identity and integrity on something as slippery and unreliable as our memory?

SocialMeltingpot said...
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Franco said...

“Lebanon, boker tov…”

“Good morning, Lebanon” in English, a jolly, catchy song with this phrase in its chorus was sarcastically scored during the scenes of destruction, courtesy of the Israeli forces, in animated 1982 Lebanon.

This amongst other mature scenes is awkwardly animated: Sex, nudity, violence, gore, profanity, smoking, alcohol, and other intense scenes – no wonder, although the film is an animated feature, Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir has got this from the Motion Picture Association of America: “Rated R for some disturbing images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity and a scene of graphic sexual content.”

The film, or the “documation”, highlights the two-day 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in their camp in Beirut, Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war. It depicted the massacre of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians by Christian Lebanese Phalangists while in the wake of the Israel Defense Force that surrounds the camps. After the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, leader and president-elect of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces militia group, entered the camp and murdered inhabitants during the night.

The United Nations had a vote whether the event is to be declared genocide: the yes votes won over no and abstentions (123, 0, 22). Though some countries dispute the need for it to be called genocide: for instance, Singapore and Canada “the term 'genocide' is used to mean acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group." And to consider that the Lebanese and the Israeli are from the same racial group.

This tragic event have “hounded” Folman and caused him to subconsciously forget the memories related to the massacre, perhaps a selective amnesia. But on a greater scale, it is an issue on the politics of memory not only of the Lebanese and the Israeli, but of the whole world. The politics of memory is the political means by which events are remembered and recorded, or discarded. The terminology addresses the role of politics in shaping collective memory and how remembrances can differ markedly from the objective truth of the events as they happened. The influence of politics on memory is seen in the way history is written and passed on. Up to this time, we can see how the politics of memory has indefinitely tainted Israel-Lebanon relations.

This documation rightfully deserves to be the first animated film to be nominated in an Academy Award or a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn’t only raise the maturity of the animated films; it also broadened its viewing audience.

Reference:

Huysen, A (2003). “Present pasts: urban palimpsests and the politics of memory”

SocialMeltingpot said...
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Ginx Petterson said...

It seems highly unfair to me how the film was criticized greatly for its lack of historical accuracy. Ms. Arevalo mentioned many backgrounder events that occurred that, to an extent, caused the Massacre that played out in Sabra and Shatila, forwarding the thought that omission of such events misled viewers to what really happened because of the “documentary” feel of the film, which makes it supposedly credible.

But my take on this is that the film was highly credible. And was very much “based on a true story.”

A theme to Waltz with Bashir is how memories are alive and dynamic. Sometimes our mind fills in gaps and holes to make sense of some memories when we cannot really remember them. Memory can even shape itself in such that it can push back and repress some memories, making it seem as if they never happened. This was very explicit from beginning ‘til end as the lead character, director of the film, Folman goes on interviewing many people to retrieve these lost memories of the Lebanon War, and to also make sense of the supposed only “memory” he has of it.

With this in mind, as the plot plays out, I as a viewer, consumed the filmed knowing that the accounts of the Lebanon War were based on those who had been there wherever they were at that time. Be it in a tank through the city, or in orchard woods, the scenes dancing on the screen were images from these interviewees’ memories. In the same way that a person is incapable of perfect information, a character such as Carmi wouldn’t be able to mention negotiations between Israel Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon and Maronite Phalange party parliamentary leader, Bashir Gemayel, if he knew nothing about that. It would be unrealistic to the film’s overall style to get someone to talk of “what happened in the Lebanon War and the Massacre in Sabra and Shatila” versus what Folman asked of people in the film, “What do you remember from the war?”

Besides, anyone can just google the historical account of the war, but one cannot easily access the scope or the gravity of the post war damage done to soldiers—and to me that was the overall message that Waltz with Bashir tried to convey to its viewers, especially at the end when Folman tries to share a fraction of how hollowing it was to see the faces of Palestinians after the massacre.

Though we’ve delved on this during class, I would like to comment on the animation, just because it was that awesome.

Apparently, the budget to create Folman’s animated documentary was quite low, but Folman decided to use this to their advantage. The use of animation is much low-cost as compared to live action, needing mostly skill and technique with the drawings and illustrations. Aside such economical benefits, animation enabled the hazy “memory” impression to be more effective, since one could not directly tell if what was happening was really part of the narrative or another one of those in between musical sequences from either Folman or the last/next interviewee’s memory (or at least one that captures how the memory was like). Without the constraints of live action, the film’s creators were freely able to convey the depth of the soldiers’ emotions on the subject.

The question of objectivity has already been raised. But just because the film has taken a subjective slant doesn’t make it any less real. If anything, the technique of animation made Waltz with Bashir more genuine than live action could ever try as its audience is swept in the abstraction of memories and emotions, due to the film’s landscape of colors, images and music.

References:
http://waltzwithbashir.com/film.html

Mico Quijano said...
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Mico Quijano said...
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Mico Quijano said...

PART I

I say intellectual elitism. The careless assumption put forward by Ms. Arevalo is nothing short of a discriminatory act. For one, I do not buy the notion that being ill-informed begets being misled. Information is acquired in many ways, through many channels. As much as people have the capacity to provide information, they also have the capacity to look for it themselves – especially if they know and/or feel they are missing something. Second, in the context of encoding and decoding messages, just how exactly can a film be of disservice to its audience? Again, I refer to one of Barthes’ and Foucalt’s central tenets in deconstructing media texts: when a film tries to put an idea across, the author’s intended meaning becomes only secondary to how the viewer perceives it. It does not make sense to say that I was cheated because this is how I got the message. People respond and react to disservice; you do not impose or tell which circumstances have provided them disservice. But I digress, since it is apparent that her argument is rooted on the premise that the content of Waltz with Bashir is essentially flawed. Do I therefore concede? Not just still.

It is particularly dumbfounding how you go on thoroughly analyzing an animated documentary without even having to establish what a documentary is in the first place. The Oxford dictionary defines documentary as “a film or television or radio program that provides a factual report on a particular subject.” Allow me to dissect the definition piece by piece. First, I think no one would disagree when I say that the central subject of Waltz with Bashir was the journey Folman underwent in search for personal bygone memories of the war. We therefore ask: did the film provide us with a factual account of the central subject? In the strongest possible terms I emphasize that the narrative was mainly about the author’s personal journey of recovering his suppressed memories of the war – not the war itself. And so yes, the film did present what it was supposed to depict, and I guess (however sloppy this may sound) viewers don’t really have much of a choice but to take it as a factual account. After all, it is a personal experience – a sensitive one at that – and it’s not something people can refute with theories or logical contentions.

Mico Quijano said...

PART II

Waltz with Bashir is a documentary. Point made. Now, given the inaccuracies and omissions in its historical context, would it be valid to say that it has become less of a documentary? I don’t think so. As far as I’m concerned, it did document an aspect of reality – and that was Folman’s reality. I believe it was never part of its intention to educate its audience on the 1982 Lebanon War. Seriously, cut the film some slack. If you want an accurate report of the war, stop watching and start reading Wikipedia instead. Kidding aside, I suppose the root of disagreement on this matter is the dominant notion that a documentary always talks about a defining moment and/or period in world history. What I mean is that people have been accustomed and exposed to watching documentaries which feature news-worthy materials – those perceived as socially relevant and significant. Hence, it is understandable how some viewers would tend to see the film as a depiction of the war’s “realities,” and not Folman’s personal reality.

Finally, I’d like to raise some points regarding the film’s animation. Aside from being a documentary in itself, what made Waltz with Bashir “more real” so to speak, is its odd animation which resembles that of a Japanese anime. At some point it got me thinking of the possibility that there might actually be unique characterizations which makes Asian animation remarkably distinct, most especially from American versions. I can’t exactly point out what it is, but there is just something about how the animation was fashioned which makes the characters appear literally like human flesh. I would say that it was the lighting or the hues which did the trick, but then again it would not suffice the conception I have of that x-factor. It is in this view that I can’t help but call it animation for animation’s sake, because it strikes me as so real that I don’t see myself responding differently had it been presented the conventional way. But perhaps this was the point of using animation in the first place – to show that the way it triggers our emotions is not at all significantly different from the way live action touches our feelings.

faysah said...

Part 1:

The entry takes note that Waltz with Bashir may lack objectivity when it comes to presenting the events of the Lebanon War of 1982 and may even be accused of attempting deception by using a documentary style to make the film appear more factual. It has also been criticized for omitting certain historical facts which may have rendered the film’s historical accuracy questionable. It can be argued however, that all movies, especially war films are set according to a particular perspective. It is very hard to find a war film that does not project its soldiers in the more favourable light. Each presentation regardless of the medium, is forced to privilege a certain view because framing is a necessity due to the inability of encapsulating all aspects of reality. As such, even documentaries cannot enjoy the credibility of presenting a completely objective reality because of the inevitable presence of constraints that film makers have to face. Framing then becomes crucial to limit the scope of the subject matter in order to be able to present a coherent narrative. No form of narrative or historical record for that matter has claimed to be all-encompassing. It is then unfair to look for something that the film has never intended to include in the first place.

Granted that a documentary style may have given Waltz with Bashir a more realistic touch, I would argue that it was used to be able to effectively portray that the film was inspired by events that really occurred in history rather than as a tool of deception to deliberately mislead the audience towards a particular framework. The mere fact that the documentary scenes were interspersed with Ari Folman’s quest for his memories that were portrayed in animated graphics already warns the audience of subjectivity. It would also be incredulous to assume that an audience is a homogenous group of passive people whose reactions are so malleable that the film maker can actually shape their views through a series of manipulations behind the camera. This assumption is deterministic and hence, too simplistic. Critical viewers would know not to rely on a single source for a particular subject especially when it is clear that the film was narrating certain aspects of the Lebanon War from the point of view of Ari Folman who was only one of the many witnesses of the war. The film is then bound to give an incomplete account of the actual events that transpired since a witness account is only a fragment of a bigger historical narrative. This should have alerted people who were expecting a systematic lecture on Lebanese history that they were watching a personal account rather than a historical documentary similar to those in the History Channel.

faysah said...

Part 2:

It has also been pointed out that the film has drawn criticisms for making parallelisms between the actions of Nazi Germany and the IDF forces in Lebanon. A lot agree that this has vindicated Germany since Israelites themselves were shown to be just as capable of perpetuating atrocities similar to those of the Nazis during the Holocaust. However, I would disagree by saying that the parallelism serves humanity well by showing that the capability of committing such crimes is not a function of race, religion, gender, nationality or any other social categories. It shows that there is no basis for assigning labels to a particular because of the actions of a few. The behaviour of the IDF during the Shatila and Sabra massacres does not exonerate Nazis, nor does it necessarily present an anti-Semitic image of Israelites. It merely shows that ascribed social categories such as those mentioned above cannot serve as explanatory structures for the criminality of a particular group of people which is the anti-thesis of the Nazi vision of persecuting Jews and other groups merely for racial and political affiliations as well as other forms of bigotry. The film contributes to the search for a comprehensive reading of historical events despite its personal and individualist account because it upsets the simplistic method of putting people into boxes labelled as the antagonists on one hand and the victims on the other. It helps put an end to the reductionist way of framing history between the oppressed and the oppressors which could lead to a more framework for analyzing political history.

Finally, Ari Folman’s presentation of his personal account shows that a perspective may prove to be more effective in portraying a more vivid image of a historical event because it diverts readers and viewers from reductionist analyses of history where people are not conveniently cast in either villainous roles or the starring role of victimized protagonists. While I personally prefer the more rigid and systematic method of positivism for research, I would have to concede that a narrative allows more flexibility for the witness to provide students with more information which a structured methodology may have missed (Patternson and Monroe 1998:330). From here, Folman’s use of his own personal account would then serve as the advantage rather than the drawback of his film because it offers an additional insight to the Lebanon war that historical textbooks may not be able to offer. What is important is that a viewer recognizes that this account is not a comprehensive study and nor was it meant to be a descriptive and scholarly contribution for Lebanese history. Overall, the use of a personal account, when placed into its proper context, serves students of history well because it either supplements what other more authoritative sources may have already contributed or it challenges dogmatic assumptions. Suffice to say, Waltz with Bashir was never meant to be a lecture on history but an additional witness account so it is quite unjust to criticize it based on the criteria for judging what was meant to be a historical account.

Molly Patterson and Kristen Renwick Monroe. 1998. “Narrative in Political Science,” Annual Review of Political Science. 1:315-331

F. Abdullah