Waltz with Bashir

In keeping with the trend of cultural posts today (see the previous one about the book “Off the Wall”),  I would like to bring to Media Shack’s readers’ attention an incredible film that is been unanimously lauded by critics across the globe: “Waltz with Bashir” by Israeli director Ari Folman.

“Waltz with Bashir” is unique in many ways.  It is an animated documentary.  But the characters in it, despite being drawn animations, are actually animations of real people interviewed.  The movie is a reflection on the ethics of forgetting. Folman tries to remember why he can’t remember his days as an IDF soldier in Beirut during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.  He goes about the world interviewing fellow soldiers who were with him in Beirut, and journalists, and meets at intervals with his psychiatrist friend in order to discuss his findings and rationalize his brain’s selective memory.

The animation is highly stylized, and looks like a comic book that’s come to life.  But the subjects tackeld are far from being as flat as mere drawings. This film does something Lebanon has still not done:  it tackles head on the moral implications of war, the way in which seemingly normal people deal with their participation in atrocious events, like the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and doesn’t shy away from casting judgment on the morality and ethics of war, of Israel’s policies,  or of Israel’s own leaders.   Since I am not by profession a film critic, I will not plunge into a long essay about why “Waltz with Bashir” gets my thumbs up.  I will only passionately advocate  anyone even remotely interested in the Middle East to SEE THIS FILM!  It is absolutely haunting, penetrating, disturbing, and an artistic and political masterpiece.  Of course, the fact that a film which so directly and candidly deals  with the history of Lebanon cannot even be shown in Lebanon itself is symptomatic of the country’s (and the region’s) wilful blindness to its own past.

9 Responses

  1. …or in fact in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, the UAE, Oman, Yemen, well actually in any Arab State, with the possible exception of the ones that have signed peace treaties with Israel.

    Previous postings have amply demonstrated that this website has no respect whatsoever for Lebanon but frankly, this is a new low. Let’s leave aside the question of why the hell Lebanon should screen a film about the Israeli perspective of the 1982 war and concentrate on your main point; that the ban is somehow symptomatic of “the country’s wilful blindness to its own past”.

    While Lebanon certainly has a great deal of difficulty in coming to terms with its past in the 11 years I’ve lived here ,I’ve seen numerous local and pan-Arab television documentaries on Sabra and Chatila, attended the annual remembrance ceremony, which is covered by all the TV stations here, and seen (yes, in Beirut) a film entirely unmentioned in your post – the Monika Borgman/Lokman Slim film ‘Massaker’. The 90-minute documentary, made in 2005, is based entirely on first-hand interviews with men involved in the massacre. It was widely and repeatedly screened in Beirut and while the principal director is not Lebanese, Lokman Slim is a local civil society activist.

    While that might only put a small hole in your argument, its a hole nonetheless. Next time you want to throw around accusations of censorship/wilful amnesia, you might do us the courtesy of extending your clearly limited and shallow knowledge of this country by not limiting yourself to reviews written by Siskel and Ebert.

    AMS? Two thumbs down.

  2. E.D.,

    You’re unfortunately confusing criticism for disrespect. I have never on this website, or in any other forum for that matter, equated signing a peace treay with Israel with respectability. I suspect you might have some of my co-blogger Rob’s writings in mind when you say that Media Shack has no respect for Lebanon. If this is correct, then you should keep two things in mind: first, his musings on policy hypotheticals should not be taken as discriminatory dismissals of Lebanon, and two, whenever he has done so, I have been quick to point out my own issues with his arguments. I admit it would make our task at Media Shack alot easier if we were only committed to praising the countries we write about. But that would turn this website into a “limited and shallow” (as you put it) endeavour.

    I thank you for pointing out the films and documentaries that have been produced and aired in the Middle East about the Sabra and Shatila massacres. I do not had the chance to watch these, as I am not currently based in the region, although I do appreciate you bringing this up. Your comment itself however essentially agrees with my post: you admit that Lebanon has difficulty in coming to terms with its past. How is my stating the same thing then considered disrespect? Perhaps in the summary film review that I wrote for Waltz with Bashir, I didn’t dive deep enough into details regarding Lebanon’s failures in addressing the issues that caused a 15-year civil war, details and ironies such as Elie Hobeika, the man best known for his alleged role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, being appointed Minister for the Displaced right after the Civil War, or the fact that the Taif Agreement, which put an end to the war, instead of reforming the confessional system which arguable was one of the reasons for the war, merely “updated” it based on suspected changes in the country’s demographics. As you must surely know by now, having lived in Lebanon for 11 years, there has been no population census since 1932, because the country is so scared of having to deal with how the size of each confessional group has increased or decreased.

    You’re right that Massaker deals with the same topic as Waltz with Bashir, but this post wasn’t a survey of movies on Sabra and Shatila. It was only intended to encourage people to see Waltz with Bashir. I would like to point out, however, that although you seem to believe that Lebanon is justified in banning Israeli films from being screened, you say nothing about the fact that it nonetheless allows books about Israel or by Israelis to be sold in the country’s bookshops. How this cannot be considered an inconsistent censorship policy is beyond me. In fact, Monika Borgman herself pointed this out herself when she was asked her opinion on Waltz with Bashir not being shown in Lebanon.

    I have to admit I was amused at your Siskel and Ebert reference. While I do sometimes check the Chicago Sun Times where Ebert publishes his reviews before deciding to see a film, this ironically didn’t happen on this occasion. I was only spurred into writing this post based on my own reactions to the film, which based on your comments, by the way, I have strong reason to believe you have not seen. Perhaps you should, before casting such a harsh judgment on my reasons for liking it.

    Lastly, and on a more personal level, I do want to go on record as saying whatever criticism I make of Lebanon should never be taken as disrespect, for the simple reason that I was born and raised there and as such have strong emotional attachments to it. If anything, my occasional frustrations with the problems of the country should be seen not as condescension, but as an intense desire for it to correct its mistakes and achieve more.

  3. ED,
    If Lebanon is so good at coming to grips with its past, then how do you explain that the Lebanese National Museum has virtually nothing post- 16th century?
    Rob

  4. Or that school history textbooks don’t teach the Civil War?

  5. Rob,

    You misrepresent me entirely. How does (and I quote myself) “While Lebanon certainly has a great deal of difficulty in coming to terms with its past” suggest that I think (and I quote you) “Lebanon is so good at coming to grips with its past” ?

    On the National Museum Front, two points:

    The Museum is run by the DGA – Directorate General of Antiquities.

    The DGA was created during the French Mandate and its purview has changed little since then. This is relevant because the French decided (in the spirit of the times) that the classification of ‘antiquity’ applied only to objects pre-dating the 17th Century – hence the abrupt chronological halt in the displays at the National Museum. And to pre-empt your next objection, that Lebanon could have changed those laws had it so desired (after all, France and the rest of Europe did so between the 1940’s and 70’s) the reason they still stand is simple; greed. As only ‘antiquities’ are protected under the law, the current designation of what is truly old and therefore worth preserving facilitated the wanton pre and post-wars destruction of Ottoman-era Beirut and enriched property developers of all religious persuasions in the process.

    Two endlessly discussed museums should eventually remedy the gap. One will be in Sodeco and the other in Martyr’s Square and will deal with Beirut’s civil wars history and historical Beirut from 7000 BC to today respectively. However, given that the downtown souqs have yet to be completed, I doubt we’ll be seeing either any time soon.

    Sorry to rain on your parade. I know it’s so much more fun to believe that a nefarious agenda/ ‘wilful amnesia’ lies behind it all.

    Blackstar,

    Thanks for your more considered response. My apologies for confusing your postings with those of Rob.

    Regarding school textbooks, I’m right there with you but then teaching the Civil War would imply that there is a consensus view to teach. There isn’t and given that the only existing alternative to teaching nothing would be to teach multiple different and sectarian versions of the war (which most kids get at home anyway), perhaps the ‘nothing’ choice is better for the moment.

    Is that a cop out? Perhaps. But then history here is still being written and is not yet safely in the past, the way it now is in Europe and the States. Given that people here are still arguing over what an ‘Arab’ identity means for Lebanon – an argument that runs a wide spectrum from specious Phoenicianism to equally specious Bastion of Resistance-ism – let alone who did what and to who and why, that consensus will take time to emerge. Still, there is slow and halting progress. Don’t forget too that pre-civil war, when Arab nationalism was still alive(ish), a significant chunk of Lebanese didn’t even believe that a Lebanese state should exist.

    Try cutting Lebanon a little slack. Even in the United States – which at least had a unifying founding story and where there were really only two major narratives to consider – a consensus view on the American Civil War did not emerge in school textbooks until the beginning of the Twentieth Century, a good thirty years after its end. As for a comprehensive historical re-consideration of the role played by the country’s racial minorities, that took even longer to emerge and while your Civil War ended slavery, racial segregation wasn’t officially abolished until the 1960’s.

    Lastly, on the point of Hobeika, if you really want an answer to that spectacular insult, ask Damascus. It was Assad who rehabilitated that monster. Similarly, you might ask how Jumblatt, a man with plenty of blood on his hands and who was almost single-handedly responsible for ‘homogenising’ the Chouf was put in Hobeika’s place shortly afterwards or how Nabih Berri, whose militia conducted the years-long War of the Camps, were also allowed to escape punishment under the Pax Syriana.

    And no, this isn’t a case of Christian apologism. Hobeika was a war-criminal and you are right to point out that his appointment to anywhere but a jail cell was a travesty but he certainly wasn’t the only one to get away with murder so it follows that your criticism should be more comprehensive.

  6. Drawing parallels between two recent conflicts, Ari Shavit, Haaretz Correspondent writes:

    ” Beirut’s “Waltz with Bashir” will pale by comparison to Gaza’s waltz with Olmert.

    Then we’ll discover that we will not be paying the price of the past week’s belligerent escapade only in Obama’s America. We will be paying it with the damaged souls of our sons and daughters.”

  7. Edward,

    I only mentioned Hobeika because the subject of discussion was a movie that dealt with Sabra and Shatila. Obviously all the warlords and militia leaders from the war came back after Taif in politicians’ suits and cabinet portfolios.
    If everyone cut Lebanon slack, the country would never achieve anything. The purpose of criticism, whether it’s on blogs, or by civil society groups, is to pressure governments to implement reform and for states to improve their conditions.

    Jeff, thanks for your reference. It always amuses me how Israeli journalists are always more critical of their government’s policies than any journalist in the US dares to be.

  8. […] referencing this interview as a follow-up to a discussion which took place a few weeks ago between one of readers and myself, regarding what he considered to […]

  9. Ill keep it short and simple, Throughout my existence I have grown tired of the same cat and mouse game Israelis play over and over again … like a screen pass in American football that continuously fools the defense and wins the game and the hearts of its fans. Honestly, I don’t think I can afford as a Lebanese Christian or an intelligent, aware and passionate young man for that matter in today’s society, to repeatedly hear tale after tale reminding me of the struggles the Jews have endured and the passionate and kind respect they’ve shown the rest of us barbaric co-inhabitors … the invasion was real and to create a movie that not only has the audience walking away forgetting or not acknowledging its magnitude but blaming another group from the country the wars taking place in with no mention of who created or drove the Palestinians into the country in the first place … this is overwhelming … Playing God once again…. creating the scenario and playing it out as they wish. The audacity to write stories depicting their trials and tribulations as a constant struggle between good and evil fooling mainstream media with a constant barrage of manipulated information is uncanny … We are smarter than this … please wake up and realize this and stop this blind barrage of lies … it has worked for years but the intelligent grow strong and not barbarically but creatively, end these games and join us in a morally and viably just world where we all move forward in the right direction not in constant circles confusing the herd so a few can hide ahead ….. we are all watching,……… too re-write history is a responsibility only the true should bare and to tell a story bares the responsibilty of telling it all.

    Atonement.

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