movie review: “waltz with bashir,” a relentless, lavish excavation of the theater of war

Dear Readers,

Yesterday was ripe with the pure magic of moving pictures. I movie hopped to three of today’s hottest flicks, first with a student, then on my own. Movie marathons are always fun, and strategic.  Waltz with Bashir, Slumdog Millionaire (solid), and Milk (shed tears, hope!).  Read on for my review of Waltz with Bashir.

Waltz With Bashir:

First thoughts: The sheer extent of memory! This film is relentless, lavish excavation of the perverse details of war. In once scene, 19 year olds roll towards war in a tank. They feel impenetrable. They feel like they are on a field trip, eating chips and rocking to music. They enter “enemy territory.” The tank is as big as the street it rolls down, crushing cars parked on the edges. We are transported into the tank, in the hot seat. We look out the tanks core window. Suddenly, we are engulfed in protective steel, yet more vulnerable than ever. Our vision tilts to the side, crushing a car to our left. Our vision balances out, next car in a few yards. These are the painful props and scenes that water slide drop off most movies depicting the macabre theater of war. It is the courage to remember and the heart to share these memories that makes Waltz with Bashir a service to humanity.

Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary in which Ari Forman, a middle aged Israeli man, former youth soldier, collects stories to help him piece together the wartime memories he had blocked out for decades. The prize: an accurate picture of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Bashir is the former leader of Lebanon, whose death prompted a backlash which led to the genocide of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon at camps called Sabra and Shatila. A foreboding orange sky permeates, seasons change from snowy blight to lush fields of green, and a therapist friend orbited by growing sons councils our five o’clock shadow protagonist through the recollection process. Interviews with many former soldiers reflect one of the film’s core strengths, the ability to convey ,with palpable nuance, personalities pre and post-war. The theater of war in Waltz with Bashir bends sensuality into perversion. It is a theater that our protagonist enters and exits, reminding me of practicing prison law, and the mind blowing reality that there was acres of humans in cages, and I was free to enter and exit.

The fact that Waltz with Bashir is animated accelerates its sweeping, realistic retelling. No clumsy re-enactments, and enough magic to make it bearable to watch. Filmmaker Ari Forman breaks new ground in the image maker’s conceptual play between “real” and “fake.” He makes sure we understand that escape from this horror called war was always the goal. A few decisions at the tips of a few men’s tongues dictate whether war continues or ends.  Decisions upon which generations whiplash violently against each other in perfect re-enactments of violence.  And this unfathomable reality of Auschwitz umbilical cord tied to the child of Sabra and Shatila is what we feel in Waltz with Bashir.

Forman ushers in live footage to end the film, grainy documentation of Auschwitz-like heaps, crumpled bodies, Palestinians now, wailing, railing mothers floating like ghosts amidst the carcasses and rubble. This film triumphs, because of Forman’s relentless memory, courage and capacity, still, for beauty. More than most, Waltz with Bashir sends a resounding message: No one wins in war.

Yours Truly,

roopa singh, jd


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