Tag Archives: Genocide

339. WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008)

“I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways — disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.”–Elie Wiesel

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ari Folman

PLOT: Director Ari Folman’s old friend describes a recurring nightmare where he is accosted by 26 angry dogs, a dream that is related to his experiences in the Lebanon War of 1982. When pressed about his own recollections, Folman notices that he only has one clear memory from the war: skinny dipping in the ocean while flares fall over Beirut. He interviews other friends who served with him in an attempt to remember what happened to him in the war, but no one’s memories match his own.

Still from Waltz with Bashir (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • The 1982 Lebanon War began when Israeli forces invaded Lebanon in an attempt to stop Palestinian terrorists who were operating across the border. The Israeli’s sided with Christian elements in Lebanon—the Phalangist party—led by the charismatic Bashir Gemayel. Gemayel was elected President of Lebanon in 1982, but was assassinated after less than a month in office. Although a member of a rival Christian political party later confessed to the assassination, members of a radical branch of the Phalangists immediately blamed Palestinians for the killing and undertook a massacre in two refugee camps, systematically killing civilians.[1] The occupying Israeli army not only allowed the massacre to continue for two days, but shot flares at night to illuminate the streets at the Phalangists request, before ordering the paramilitary troops carrying out the massacre to disperse. An Israeli investigation found defense minister Ariel Sharon negligent for failing to protect the civilians from the Phalangists, and he was forced to resign his post over the resulting scandal. He was elected Prime Minister in 2001, however.
  • Although often mistaken for rotoscoping, the animation in Waltz with Bashir is done cutout style, aided by computers (they actually used Flash). The scenes were filmed and then recreated by animators, rather than drawing directly over the film frames as is done in rotoscoping.
  • Folman exaggerates his memory loss as a literary technique. On the film’s commentary track he explains that in reality he did not have a complete loss of memory, as depicted in the film, but he had suppressed his memories of the Sabra and Shatila incidents.
  • Waltz with Bashir was banned in Lebanon and parts of the Arab world.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are many choices here, from the scene of the soldier dancing in the middle of a firefight from which the movie takes its name to the devastating last forty-five seconds. But Waltz with Bashir hooked us with its first (and most) surreal image: the soldier who dreams he is rescued from his troop transport by a giant naked woman who emerges from the sea.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Rabid dog revenge; backstroking giantess; Doberman porn star

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Waltz with Bashir is a perfect example of our sliding scale for weird movies. Ari Folman has made three movies that dabble in surreal imagery; the other two (Clara Hakedosha and The Congress) are inarguably weirder. But Bashir is his morally complex masterpiece, the film for which he seems destined to be remembered. Groundbreaking in form, shocking to the senses and the conscience, it portrays war from a soldier’s ground-eye view as an absurd, half-remembered dream—but one with very real consequences, which emerge from the murk of remembrance into the harsh light of reality in the brutal finale.

Original American trailer for Waltz with Bashir

COMMENTS: A young man walks out of the ocean and stares at us. Continue reading 339. WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008)

  1. The actual number of victims is disputed; estimates range anywhere from 300 to 3000. []

CAPSULE: THE MISSING PICTURE (2013)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rithy Panh

FEATURING: Jean-Baptiste Phou (English narration), Randal Douc (French narration)

PLOT: Rithy Panh remembers his boyhood growing up in a Cambodian work camp under Pol Pot’s murderous regime, using clay figures of his own design to recreate horrors from the past.

Stillfrom The Missing Picture (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This handcrafted memorial of genocide is a heartbreaking and dreamlike testimonial to perseverance in the face of incomprehensible evil, but despite being both off the beaten path and worthy of your attention, it’s not what we could truly term “weird.”

COMMENTS: Strictly speaking, mass murder is never entirely rational, but there was something especially horrific about the crimes of the Khmer Rogue and the way they blended an absurdly suicidal ideology with naked hypocrisy. Pol Pot’s regime allowed thousands of people to die of malaria because they would not treat the ill with “capitalist” medicine. The people were asked to work in “rice fields” set up in deserts, dying of hunger and exhaustion today so that millions might be fed in some far-off tomorrow. If the children sent to work in one particularly tough camp could not extract three cubic meters of dirt per day, their quota was raised to five cubic meters. It was a utopia of perfect equality, except that the overseers in the red neckerchiefs carried guns and never went hungry.

Since there is no filmed record of the horrors of Cambodia’s killing fields, other than propaganda movies showing smiling workers loading sacks of grain onto trucks (the narrator suggests that they may be props filled with sand), Rithy Panh recreates his experiences in the death camps by carving clay figures and arranging them in dioramas, which he then films with bitterly poetic narration. This is the missing picture—a record of misery that went unrecorded, because the powers that be didn’t want it to be seen. The crude, pocked and weathered figurines with frozen expressions for make perfect victims. They are nameless masses, but no matter how blank their features, each is somehow an individual, whether the individuality comes from a unique pose or some imperfection in their sculpture. They are unable to express the horror of their situation, but this makes them the perfect dumb witnesses to inexpressible horror. They sometimes interact with rare footage of Kampuchea in the 1970s. Carved figures of red-scarved soldiers stand quietly in front of black and white archival war footage; newly enlisted workers stare out from cattle cars as back-projected scenery races by. The soundscape—melancholy Cambodian folk music, dark ambient music with exotic instrumentation—combines with the quiet, almost resigned narration to make the picture play like a muted nightmare.

Technically, The Missing Picture is a documentary, but that designation seems too limiting for such ambitious nonfiction. Picture (re)creates more than it documents. Watch this with the (slightly weirder, and far more acerbic) The Act of Killing for an unconventional and disturbing documentary double-feature about the capacity of man to deal death to his fellow man, from the right or the left, from action or from neglect. “To survive, you must hide a strength within yourself… for a picture can be stolen, a thought cannot.”

The Missing Picture was Cambodia’s first-ever submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It was passed over.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

” …like a dream, like a nightmare, and it often flows in an eerie stream of consciousness.”–Maryann Johanson, Flick Filospher (contemporaneous)