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Review: Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Director: | 87 minutes | , , , | Original Voice Cast: , , Ari Folman, , , , ,

In 1982, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Palestinian men, women and children were murdered in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon. Perpetrators of the massacre were the Christian Falangists, militia troops and followers of Bashir Gemayel. They wanted revenge for the murder of their leader. The Israelis, while not actively participating in the massacre, did take place under their eyes. They allowed the Falangists to enter the camps and only intervened when it was in fact too late. Whoever murdered Bashir Gemayel at the time has never become clear. The title of the is thus explained: “Bashir” is Bashir Gemayel and the waltz refers to a scene in the film in which a soldier is spinning around a street while firing a machine gun around him in the wild.

Director of the film, Ari Folman, was serving in the Israeli army at the time and found that memories of and the reconstruction of this massacre were largely blocked in his memory. He wanted to know what had happened and how it could have come to this. Twenty years later, in this film, he goes on a quest for his own memories from that time and also talks to other soldiers and others who were in the army at that time. Folman has opted for a completely different format, a kind of animation documentary.

First of all, he made a documentary film with interviews with various stakeholders. He then made an entirely new film in animation form. The chosen animation format is penetrating and particularly creative. What remains are the real voices of the interviewees. They tell their real story, they are not actors who read a text. It was avoided that the umpteenth documentary emerged from which the viewer turns away after a while under the motto: we now know that. With the conscious choice for the documentary-like animation film, the director has enabled an inventive and creative development. In an extremely original format in terms of style, the film outlines the story of how it could have come to this. The animation form used is a kind of amalgamation of drawings and similar portraits that almost bring the characters to life and emphasize the authenticity. The applied color setting makes the story penetrating, while the is also strongly supportive. The images of the siege of the refugee camps, the flares fired, but also the interviews with those involved who – digging into the depths of their memory – unravel piece by piece what they have always pushed away, make this animation film an impressive experience.

After news of the massacre became known, an official investigation was launched into the role of Israeli politicians. Defense Secretary Ariel Sharon was found guilty in the investigation of the judgment that he had not done enough to prevent the massacre by the Falangists. He had to quit. His role on the political battlefield was thus not over, twenty years later he was appointed Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Folman touches an open nerve in Israeli society with the film. Based on his memories and conclusions, he is expected to be denounced as a traitor by one half of the nation, while the other half will experience the film as a form of accountability for political failure.

The film is much more than a form of liberation of memory, it also serves as a kind of lesson about the complex geopolitical situation in the Middle East. Animation that is fiercely realistic, a blocked memory from which memories of dramatic events are unraveled, the madness of shooting at anything that moves for fear of becoming a victim itself, the real truth about what happened. Intriguing in design, penetrating and convincing in effect. Top class!

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