Wassup Rockers

A Dance With Death.

If you just want to know whether I recommend Waltz With Bashir, then the answer is yes, you should go. You should go and you should do it with your friends, and you should talk it out. I have to admit that I dozed off in the beginning, but only because I hardly slept last night and I was exhausted. But after a few minutes of dozing off, I rebooted and was fucking absorbed in the story. I’m back to being fucking exhausted though.

Anywya, if you want to hear my rambly AND DETAILED (spoilers?!) thoughts on the movie and its themes, then read on.

When the movie was shown at the NYIFF, I knew I’d missed out big time, so last month when I found out they were going to release the movie officially in New York, I was ecstatic. And this, just from having seen the trailer.

After work I shimmied on down to the Sunshine. (I made a brief detour to McNally Jackson; picked up the new David B.) The movie theater was fairly packed and as I waited for the movie to start, I thought of all the demographics this sort of movie would appeal to. So I came up with: general movie geeks, old people with nothing to do, foreign film buffs, people who are totally into hyped up movies, war movie fanatics, animation dorks, politics fiends, those of Israeli/Lebanese/Palestinian/other applicable Middle Eastern descent of various faiths…

As with any other movie, I sat through several trailers, including this silly German one about an old man who discovers himself in Japan or something like that, which reminded me that we U.S. Americans are not the only ones to look to the Orient when seeking enlightenment in a time of crisis. (Oh hey, remember Darjeeling Limited…?) Okay, okay. Obviously I haven’t seen the movie so it’s unfair that I should get into such a tizzy about it.

So back to Waltz With Bashir. On a more technical note, I just want to give props to the soundtrack person. The pop songs really helped to set the era, and the original score by Max Richter was used effectively–it wasn’t overwhelming, knocking you over the head with it and dictating every emotion you should feel in every scene, but it was memorable and evocative.

Another surprise was that, in one scene, you can briefly see someone’s copy of The New Yorker on a table. The amazing thing is that you can see pretty clearly which cover it is, and it’s actually a cover drawn by Adrian Tomine! Titled “Missed Connection,” you can see an image of it here (the very first image). HOLY SHIT! I pretty much gasped when I saw it.

In fact, the animation was fucking astonishing. I didn’t know this until now, but apparently Asaf Hanuka took part in it (he illustrated the graphic novel version of “Kneller’s Happy Campers,” which was published as Pizzeria Kamikaze). I don’t get how the technology works, but I gots to tell you, this ain’t yo daddy’s 2D animation. How can two-dimensional drawings appear to have such depth?? Movies such as Beowulf try so hard to make the animation as close to life as possible, but the eyes of the characters are just dead. In this movie, the more abstracted animation helps infinitely to add emotion in the characters. I guess it’s kinda like what Scott McCloud said in Understanding Comics, the more abstracted a cartoon figure, the more possible it is for an individual to relate to the figure. Since it lacks specificity, the person experiencing the story can transpose their features onto the character.

I thought the story arc was very interesting, too. I’ve read a few things here and there and gotten conflicting reports as to whether this film counts as a “documentary,” and after watching the movie, I can understand why. Written and directed by Ari Folman, he basically goes on a search to reconstruct his experiences as an Israeli soldier fighting in Lebanon back in 1982. Throughout the film we meet talking heads, some of whom were fellow soldiers, others who happened to experience a massacre that Folman can’t fucking seem to remember, hard as he might try. So that’s what had me bugging out. He had other people telling him his story. What is a memoir when you have no living memory of what happened? Here, we see the many people it takes for them to tap into his mind and awaken all the images (as well as the emotions attached to the images) of what he experienced.

There is an element that complicates this. Early on, one of the first people Folman contacts is a lawyer friend who gives a lot of input on the frailty of memory. (Annoyingly and conveniently so, this friend seems to have all the answers as to how Folman’s mind ticks.) Basically, the lawyer friend states that many people can convince themselves into fabricating a memory, even if there is no fucking way it happened. And he also points out that multiple people can come to believe that a fabricated experience really occurred. So as I watched the talking heads helping Folman remember, I couldn’t help but wonder, is Folman truly remembering? Have they really unlocked all these memories? Or was he just latching onto their memories?

I think Folman would say, ultimately, that it doesn’t matter whose memory it is, as long as it exists and that others are aware of its existence. The relationship between trauma and memory is an intricate one. Why do we say shit like “never forget”? Take, for example, the establishments of Truth Commissions in Latin America as a way to come to terms with the many people who were “disappeared” under the many dictatorships that came into power in the 20th century. In their way, these commissions acknowledged the private, individual suffering of the families of the disappeared by becoming public knowledge. The pain of losing these people was meant to be a burden shared by entire nations, not in private.

And in the end, the pain that we share is not his pain for having been in a war so young, forced to shoot when he didn’t want to and so on. In this movie, we see a personal story becoming part of history. There are bigger victims here, and as someone who can’t keep track of all the fucking conflicts that have occurred out in the Middle East, it was illuminating enough becoming aware of the heartless shit that happened.

[Here I’m going to write about the ending which is too unforgettable not to discuss:] Another key moment in the film is when Folman meets with a doctor who has worked with people who have suffered extreme traumatic experiences. The doctor mentions one patient of hers who was a young photographer, and we see how this photographer coped with the things he experienced. The young man felt okay as long as he framed his experience as if he were not directly involved and was just watching from a distance. Of course, once the photographer couldn’t deny the reality of his situation, he just fell apart emotionally.

And here is where I seriously have to give props to Folman because he successfully demonstrates how we as viewers hide behind the comfort of just watching this movie. When the final moments appear, he pulls away that “distance” by taking away the animation. In the end, we are left with live action footage, and it’s not even a reenactment–it’s real footage from the aftermath of the very massacre Folman has forgotten. When these moments come, it’s not only jarring to have the cartoons disappear, it’s fucking shocking too. Just sent my head spinning.

And you better believe there wasn’t a fucking peep out of anyone in the theater.


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