Waltz with Bashir aka Vals Im Bashir (2008)

The Israeli animated movie Waltz with Bashir aka Vals Im Bashir is this rare thing – a really surprising movie. On top of that it’s well done, original, interesting and has a great score by Max Richter (Shutter Island).

In Waltz with Bashir Ari Folman tells his own story. He was in Lebanon in 1982, fighting with the Israeli army. At the beginning of the movie we see a pack of dogs, running in the night. It’s a very haunting, eerie image and we learn soon that it’s from a nightmare form one of Ari’s friends who was fighting in Lebanon at the same time. Although not capable of shooting people, he had to shoot the dogs who guarded the villages at night. Those dogs have come back, after far more than 20 years and haunt him in his dreams. One evening in a bar he tells Ari about it. They had never spoken about the war before and Ari had never thought of it much. To his great dismay he realizes that he doesn’t even remember anything. It’s as if it had never taken place.

After this conversation with his friend, he dreams of the war for the first time. The pictures seem to be part of a memory that he cannot really place. It looks like he is remembering a massacre in a refugee camp.

The conversation and the subsequent dream are the reason why Ari thinks, he needs to recover his memory, needs to talk to old friends, to comrades and officers. He travels to Holland and many other places, looking for people who were in Lebanon with him. He speaks to psychologists and learns a lot about the way how memory works, about dissociation and how traumatic experiences are suppressed.

It is highly fascinating to watch how he recovers his memory. Fascinating and sad as he finds out so many horrible things. It’s interesting that more than one person recovers their memory or snaps out of a state of dissociation when thinking of dying and killed animals.

What adds further complexity to the story is the fact that Ari Folman’s father was in Auschwitz. It becomes apparent after a while that the horrors his father has described to him are somehow linked to his suppressed meories and  once he recovers the memory of the war he has been in, he remembers everything else as well.

During the last five minutes the movie suddenly turns into a documentary. It is no longer an animated picture but we see original footage of the war in Lebanon.

This is the second animated war movie I have seen (the other one was Grave of the Fireflies) and both were excellent. It’s a medium that works extremely well for this topic. 

Waltz with Bashir is highly recommendable. It contains a moving and profound anti-war statement and a very interesting exploration of memory.

Under the Bombs aka Sous les Bombes (2007) A French/Lebanese Movie on the War in Lebanon

How many times was there a war between Israel and Lebanon? Let me tell you, many, many times. Some were longer, some were shorter. The war in 2006 lasted 33 days and cost, as always, the lives of many civilians.  The Lebanese/French movie Under the Bombs has a close look at what a war like this does to civilians.

Under the Bombs tells the story of a young mother who was in Dubai while her son stayed in the South of Lebanon when the war broke out. At the beginning of the movie she arrives in Lebanon and tries to find a taxi that will drive her to the South. None of the taxi drivers is willing to take her there. It is much to risky. The Hezbollah is still bombing Israel and Israel fights back. Or the other way around. At this point in time it isn’t exactly clear who is doing the fighting. The movie doesn’t really tell us why this war broke out or who is the culprit, it really is only interested in the innocent victims.

One taxi driver who fancies the good-looking woman finally decides to take her South. His own family lives there and he thinks he may have a look and find out about them.

The moment they leave Beirut the devastation can be seen. The movie was filmed right after the war and feels like a documentary. Those houses have so obviously been bombed, the cities and villages look desolate.

The trip South is a nightmare. Many bridges have been damaged and they have  a hard time to find the way. Whenever they arrive at  a destination they encounter people in distress but neither her son nor her sister can be found. The people tell them what they have been through and mostly have news of her son and indicate where he could be found.

During their trip, the taxi driver and the mother start to talk. They are an unlikely couple, and would never have met under normal circumstances. He is a simple man who dreams of leaving Lebanon and living in Germany while she is the wife of  a famous architect and has seen the whole world.

After a day or two they both start to reveal their fears and talk about the things that went wrong in their lives.

When they arrive in the South where the family used to live the only thing they find is a heap of rubble and confusing stories. It seems that her sister has died under the bombs but her son has been taken away by French journalists. Once more they chase after him.

This is a tragic, sad and very touching movie. The friendship between the mother and the taxi driver is quite moving. Both actors, Nada Abou Farhat and Georges Khabbaz are excellent. There are no easy answers in the movie, no taking sides, just the illustration of what misery the bombing of villages and cities brings to the inhabitants.

I can really recommend this.

I also included it in on my Children in War Movies List.

Beaufort (2007) The First Israeli War Movie

The Israeli movie Beaufort is an extremely strange movie. I guess it is by far one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. I can whether say if it was good or bad I just found it interesting but hard to watch as it is unfortunately a bit boring. The movie is based on Ron Leshem’s eponymous novel Beaufort. Both are based on true events. I have a feeling that the book is much better. It won Israel’s top literary award and a prize for military literature. The movie was an Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Picture in 2008 and won a prize in Berlin as well.

The Fortress Beaufort was occupied since the last war between Israel and Lebanon in 1982. In 2000 it is still an outpost of the Israeli Army. They want to abandon it but constant shelling by the Hezbollah makes this very difficult. A handful of soldiers is still defending this outpost, waiting for orders to withdraw. The Hezbollah hope to kill as many of the soldiers still posted on the fortress in order to make it look as if the Israeli Army was forced to retreat and was actually fleeing.

The tensions are pretty high. Insubordination, fits of anger and sheer helplessness make the situation hard to handle. The men start to cry easily or get annoyed for no reason. When a guy from the bomb squad gets blown up, the morale sinks below zero.

All this doesn’t make this a strange movie. What is strange is how slow it is. The slowness does make you feel how claustrophobic it must have been in this bunker to which they added layers and layers of concrete ever year. It’s like a labyrinth.

The music which is almost nonexistent and very sparse contributes to this claustrophobic ambience.

The strangest however is that this movie rather feels like a theater play. There are so many indoor scenes in which one or two characters slowly discuss things that they could easily make a play out of it.

At moments I was reminded of Dino Buzzati’s Il deserto dei tartari aka The Tartar Steppe (which I love) or even Waiting for Godot. There is a senselessness and futility in the endeavor to guard a meaningless fortress that gives this movie an existential feel.

I found a trailer but the music has nothing to do with the movie. Most scenes are totally silent or featuring a somewhat horror movie like soundtrack. Still it gives you an idea. As said, it is absolutely not bad, just not my cup of tea.

Je veux voir aka I want to see (2008) or Lebanon after the War in 2006

Je veux voir is something in between a documentary and a movie. The idea for the film  came from the helplessness of the filmmakers to see how parts of their country were destroyed in a war that lasted only 1 month. They wanted to have a look at the destruction. They wanted to see for themselves and let others see. To do so, they decided to have the icon of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve, and a famous Lebanese actor, Rabih Mroué,  visit Beirut and the South of Lebanon together.

Seeing those two strangers together in a car is quite awkward at first. He is afraid of what he will see. Rabih spent his childhood in the South where his grandmother lived. Now everything is destroyed but not all the destruction they see is new. A lot is still from the civil war. The Lebanese had never really had the time to fully rebuild their houses.

It is quite surreal at moments to see a woman like Catherine Deneuve in these places. They have odd conversations about putting on a seat belt or not, which is not important to Rabih. Not anymore, as he says. Since the war such details have lost their importance.

During their trip Rabih often repeats things Catherine says or once said in a movie in Arabic.

They have to be careful as there are cluster bombs everywhere and once they stray from the path, everybody is in uproar.

At one moment Israeli jets pass over their heads and Catherine Deneuve nearly freaks out. She thinks they are under attack. But no, as Rabih explains, this is a common procedure. Israeli jets often break the sound barrier to induce fear. But they also take pictures.

Frankly, as short as it is, I found it boring at times and Catherine Deneuve´s lack of comprehension was a bit exasperating.

But the end was good and I was glad I watched it.

We see mountains of rubble. Huge, huge mountains of rubble. All the leftovers of the destroyed buildings have been brought to a place near the sea, where they are further destroyed and the rubble is shoved into the see. What struck me were all this steel bits and wires looking out of those heaps like tentacles. You only see as much steel when concrete buildings have been destroyed. This clearly indicated that those buildings were not very old. And when I saw this I remembered that Beirut was once called the Paris of the Middle East because it was so elegant and stylish…

Those days are long gone.

Still the film ends on a positive note. The two strangers have become friends and the oh so impassive actress smiles one of her rare smiles when she sees Rabih again in the evening at a gala.