Waltz With Bashir

By Vic Thiessen
4 Feb 2009

Could any film be more timely? Waltz With Bashir is a brilliant animated film in the tradition of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, both of which rank in my favourite films of all time.

This film is about an Israeli soldier in the Lebanon War of 1983 and combines deep psychological insights with a strong anti-war message (how could I not love it). Specifically, this film tells the story of an Israeli soldier trying to remember his participation in a horrific massacre of Palestinians in 1983.

It does not go into the political issues, which is possibly wise in that it was made with Israeli government support and will probably get a much more sympathetic viewing in Israel as a result, but it is this wishy-washy ending (politically) which kept Waltz With Bashir out of my top three films of 2008.

Nevertheles, I still loved it. The animation is absolutely perfect for this kind of film and gorgeous to watch, even as it concerns such an horrific story. What happens at the very end of the film is also spot-on. The psychological journey on which we are led by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman is likewise very acute. This is a film that kept me absolutely glued to the screen throughout.

For those of us who have been appalled at the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, and who see this oppression as one of the key factors in world violence in the past forty years, it is important to be put into the shoes of an Israeli soldier from time to time.

This is humanisation at its best, and although the film doesn’t show much of the Palestinian people who are the victims of the massacre, it nevertheless tries to make them live and breathe as fellow human beings as well.

By concentrating in this way on the psychological tragedy and humanisation, the film becomes clearly anti-war. It also (like The Reader) asks about the guilt of those who allow genocide and oppression to happen, whether it be the Germans in World War Two or, sadly, the Israelis in the 20th century.

Bringing the Nazis into this kind of film was a bold move indeed, for it invites thought/comparison about how the Jews who suffered so much oppression at the hand of the Nazis could now inflict so much suffering on the Palestinians.

If the film had gone just a little farther in its consideration of this, it might have said more to the current situation in Gaza, but it is still unbelievably timely (though it hasn’t had much impact on the Israeli government as far as I can tell). I still give Waltz With Bashir four stars out of five.

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(c) Vic Thiessen is programme director of the London Mennonite Centre, which offers resources and seminars on peace, reconciliation, social justice and radical Christian discipleship in the Anabaptist tradition. From Canada, his interests include theology and culture, particularly film. An Ekklesia associate, Vic is co-author of the On The Movies weblog, from which this is excerpted with grateful acknowledgment. See: http://www.thiessenbros.blogspot.com/

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