Waltz With Bashir (2008) – A Guest Post by The War Movie Buff

I’m glad to have another guest post today. This time it is from one of my oldest blogging friends, Kevin aka The War Movie Buff. He started his war movie blog only a few months after I started mine and I was glad to find someone who doesn’t only share the interest and posts regularly and writes in a very detailed and passionate way but also someone who answers comments and likes a good discussion.

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In August, 2010, I went to see a movie called “Julie and Julia”. Little did I know that taking my wife to a chick flick to get brownie points would change my life. The plot of the Julie half of the movie involved a blogger cooking a different recipe a day and writing about it. That gave me the idea to start a blog where I would review the greatest war movies. I had recently encountered Military History magazine’s issue on the 100 Greatest War Movies so I used it as my guide. My plan was to review one movie per week starting with #100. I started as simple a blog as I could handle (being computer-challenged) and journeyed into uncharted territory not knowing what to expect. I truly did not expect to get much traffic and being a high school history teacher I am used to lack of recognition. However, my very first post resulted in a response from a blogger named “All About War Movies”. This person quickly became my mentor, colleague, and friend. In recognition of that, I have chosen to write this guest post on a movie I never would have seen without her influence. When I became a faithful follower of “All About War Movies”, I realized that there were some very good foreign war films that I should watch. Being an American, this was news to me. In my whole life of watching hundreds of films, I could recall having watched only one foreign film (“The Seven Samurai”). I quickly came to respect Caroline’s recommendations and anytime she mentioned a movie I had never heard of, I checked on it. I decided to expand my parameters to include categories beyond the 100 Greatest. One of those categories is what I decided to call “Should I Read It?” which refers to subtitled movies. The first foreign war film I blogged on was one of Caroline’s favorites – “Joyeux Noel”. I was hooked on foreign films instantly. I now even watch non-war, subtitled films. I am proudly less Americentric now.

I give this background because the movie I am going to write about is not only a foreign film, but the best war film I have seen since I started my blog. It reinforced my belief that modern war films can and should be superior to old school war movies, even the classics. Technology and experience are huge advantages for modern war movie makers. “Waltz With Bashir” is an Israeli film released in 2008. The movie blew me away because it hit several of my buttons. It is historically accurate, I learned about an event that I knew little about, it is realistic in its depiction of the military and combat, and it is striking in its cinematography.

Writer and director Ari Folman spent four years creating what he calls an “animated documentary”. If not the first of this type, it is still ground-breaking. It won numerous awards and was critically acclaimed. The film is autobiographical. Folman takes as his theme the effects of war on memory. The movie begins with a jaw-dropping three-dimensionally animated scene of a pack of dogs running through the streets to a man’s apartment building. The dogs represent a memory flashback for a friend of Ari. The friend tells Ari each dog represented the 26 dogs he sniped during the Lebanon War of 1982. This conversation causes Ari to confront the fact that he has holes in his memory of his experiences in Lebanon. That very night he has his first flashback which involves himself and some naked comrades coming ashore on a beach at the city of Beirut. Another friend theorizes that people sometimes fill in gaps in their memory with fiction. He encourages Ari to try to fill in those gaps with the truth. Don’t fear opening those doors, “memory takes us where we want to go”. He assures Ari he cannot get hurt by learning the truth.

Ari goes on a quest to talk to comrades he served with and other veterans of the invasion. Their individual stories are vignettes that powerfully depict the nature of modern war. Several universal truths about warfare and young soldiers shine through. The adrenalin-fueled fear in a firefight is followed by the overwhelming silence of death. Soldiers tend to fire their weapons at nothing and nowhere when traveling through enemy territory. Soldiers are clueless pawns of the brass and the pols. Surviving members of a unit suffer guilt feelings. Unlike some anti-war movies, “Waltz with Bashir” does not glamorize the appealing aspects of armed combat.

The movie and Ari’s quest builds to the infamous Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre. Ari’s unit is sent into western Beirut after the assassination of the Christian Phalange leader Bashir Gemayal. The film takes its title from an incident in which a member of Ari’s unit waltzes with a machine gun in the middle of a Beirut street while under fire from snipers and RPGs and as Lebanese civilians spectate. Time seems to stand still as he twirls amidst the bullet casings and ricochets. The dance symbolizes Israel’s relationship with Bashir.

The film concludes with the Israeli Defensive Forces allowing vengeance-minded Christian Phalange militia to enter the Muslim camps. The individual Israeli soldiers exhibit cognitive dissonance as they are slow to grasp what is clearly taking place before their eyes, abetted by their lighting the night skies with flares. It takes three days for an Israeli general to order a stop to the killings. The movie makes it clear that the Israeli government (Defense Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Begin) was complicit in the massacre, but Folman is not on a crusade. He lets the audience connect the dots. The memory theme comes full circle as Ari realizes that he had filled in the black hole of his memory of being near the atrocity by imagining that he and his comrades were instead at a beach. The movie closes with real footage of the massacre victims as though to remind the audience that although animated, the story is true.

I love war movies because I love Military History. I have been attracted to war stories since I was a child because of the action, but also because war brings out all the emotions and character traits in human beings. I prefer war movies that have action and are true to human nature. They don’t have to be historically accurate, but I insist they not be ridiculous and unrealistic. When you have seen as many war films as I have, you also are impressed when the movie takes a different approach to telling a war story. “Waltz with Bashir” fits this description (as do “300” and “Oh! What a Lovely War”). Movies like these prove that although the war movie genre (starting with “Birth of a Nation”) is almost a century old, there are still new ways to tell a war story.

“Waltz” looks very different from every other war film I have seen. Folman uses a variety of animation. The movie is mostly a blend of cut-out and classic animation. It is influenced by graphic novels and has a scene reminiscent of Japanese animation. He includes some three-dimensional scenes, but used the technique sparingly and only for spectacular shots. His use of color varies depending on the mood of the scene. The war scenes tend to be monochromatic. The home front scenes are much more vibrant. (He makes the point that although he was fighting only twenty minutes away, at home the public was unaffected by the war and life went on as usual.) The shading and shadows are amazing. The look is mesmerizing. Blu-ray was made for movies like this.

The movie is true to human nature mainly because these are real people who Ari interviewed and built the story on. From my reading of men in combat, I have a good idea of how men behave under that stress. For those vast majority of people who do not want to read extensively in this difficult area, movies can serve the purpose of educating civilians about what their young warriors go through. This is important because these young men deserve to be understood. Civilians need second-hand memory. Undoubtedly, some Israelis were offended by what they saw in “Waltz”. The fact is that atrocities happen on both sides in every war. Good war movies like this show what really happens in war, but also provide the why.

As an American, I admit to being ignorant about most modern non-American wars. My blog experience and Caroline’s influence have opened up my eyes to several conflicts that I would have remained clueless about. I have watched movies on the Bosnian War (“No Man’s Land”, “Pretty Village, Pretty Flame”), the First Chechan War (“Prisoner of the Mountain”), and the Lebanon War (“Beaufort”, “Lebanon”). They are all good movies that taught me something and encouraged me to research the war. My modus operandi when I read books is usually to read books that I can learn from. I am not as strict with movies, but it’s an added bonus when the movie is instructive.

In conclusion, we war movie lovers all have our reasons for loving this genre. But don’t forget it is a genre with many fascinating subgenres. Be willing to sample from them all, even the ones where you have to read. And try out the newest one – animated war documentary.

Thank you Caroline for giving me this opportunity to spout.

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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.