12/09/2008

Tell me about your war

The film Waltz with Bashir was released this week in Belgium. Let’s come back on the conditions of his release on the occasion of the 61st Cannes Film Festival in past May. Most critics were positive, even laudatory towards the third feature-length film of the Israeli director Ari Folman. Many had also sounded it out about the Palme d’Or or at least the Audience Award. If finally he got nothing, it has all the same touched the minds. And that’s the important thing!

Ari Folman invented a new genre, that of « documentary animation. » This term may raise a legitimate skepticism. Indeed, the documentary usually reporting reality is here combined with the register of the imagination. But the director has avoided the pitfalls that such kind of movie could include using on one hand real interviews, imagining on the other hand their context and representation. The result is surprising and touching. It oscillates between two worlds, the dream and reality.

The Belgian daily’s Le Soir and La Libre Belgique have accentuated the comparison between the work of Folman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Both autobiographical and animated film, they are launching a new genre. Allowing addressed in a more free way sometimes complicated subjects; the animated film sometimes requires fewer resources but can also convey experience more than pure events. In addition to the graphics different styles of the two films, La Libre Belgique also stresses that Waltz with Bashir offers a plural viewpoint while memories of Marjane Satrapi are told from a single point of view in Persepolis.

Beyond the cinema and artistic characteristics of the movie, the topic addressed by the filmWaltz with Bashir has given rise to many reactions. Taking the context of a particular event, the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, Ari Folman actually addresses the broader theme of the memory of war. Having himself participated in the war in Lebanon in 1982, he was surprised 20 years later not to have any clear memories about it. From there came the idea of trying to rebuild his memories and put them together into a film.

In The fabulous Picture Show, broadcasted by Al Jazeera, on last 31 of May, Ari Folman explains the particularity of the war in Lebanon. It was for the soldiers and the Israeli population, the first time they felt « disconnected from their leaders. » The preceding wars were defensive wars, which concerned the population. In 1982, Israel was attacking Lebanon mainly for strategic reasons: to eradicate the PLO, and to place an ally, Bashir Gemayel, at the head of the State.

More recently the Israeli-Lebanese war of summer 2006 has somehow replayed the scenario of 1982. During the preliminary Belgian Première, projected in Arenberg in Brussels, a question was asked about the reactions towards the film in Israel. Ari Folman says that against the odds, the film was very well received by critics in Israel without causing the turmoil expected. According to him, the war in Lebanon in 2006 was a new kind as very open and much discussed, and thus paved the way for his film.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the author never intended to create a political film. Questioned by France 24, it explains that his approach was quite personal, and that if he had decided to make a political movie, it would have included the Palestinian point of view. The intention of the author was not to reopen the debate on the Israeli responsibility in the massacres of Sabra and Shatila. But yet, too many areas remain in the shadows. Israel protected camps, but closed its eyes on the massacres and more, fired flares to allow the Phalangists to carry out their terrible plan. On whose orders were they acting? In the Israeli army, Ariel Sharon was he the only one involved? Although it is now initiated, the memory work is far from being over.

N.J.O.