Running in the park a few days ago, I passed a group of runners who were discussing the film “Waltz With Bashir”. Like many Israelis, they liked the film, but one of them also felt that it exaggerated in blaming Israel for the Sabra and Shatila massacre, when it was the Christian militia who did the actual shooting.
I feel differently: while the film sort of blames Israel’s leaders for the massacre, it absolves the narrator, and in that sense – all Israelis, which appear in the film as victims. Not victims in the way the Palestinians were, but a kind of “psychological victims”, traumatized by the things their country made them do. It is that double move – of assuming responsibility and rejecting it at the same time – that helped make “Waltz” into a comfortable pill for Israelis to swallow.
The strange thing is that the film actually makes people favor Israel – and that’s why I think it’s going to win an Oscar tonight. UPDATE: The Japanese “Departures” won. I haven’t seen it.
And here are some more of my thoughts about “Waltz” and other Israeli war movies.
“Waltz with Bashir”, an animated war documentary by Ari Folman, opens in the US on Dec 26th. It’s a great film, certainly worth watching. Here is the US trailer:
And here are some of my more critical thoughts on the film (no spoilers, I think):
First, I have to admit I really love war films (Tora! Tora! Tora! Is one of my all time favorites). It’s a shame that as Israelis we have so many wars and so few war films, though this is beginning to change recently (we have more films).
Watching “Waltz with Bashir” made me think of two other Israeli war movies from recent years: “Kippur” by Amos Gitai, and “Beaufort” by Joseph Cedar. I don’t mean that the film itself resembled the other two – I think “Waltz” is the best film of the three; it’s a better story, it’s more fun to watch, it provides a stronger experience and in Israeli terms, it’s a real artistic breakthrough. But rather, that on some key themes – both ideological and narrative – those films have something in common. And I think what they have in common say something about the relationship between culture and politics in Israel.