19 January 2009

Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir took director Ari Folman four years to finish, between research and extensive interviews, as well as a painstaking animation process. It has won a bunch of awards including best foreign film at the Golden Globes (did that already happen). The New Yorker blurb about the movie starts: "A documentary cartoon may sound like an oxymoron (it it not the duty of animation to elasticate reality?)" The film is hard to classify, but to me it came off as more of a memoir than a documentary. Although it revolves around the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila, at which the 19-year-old Israeli soldier Folman was present, the specifics of that event are vague. We learn more about the psychological effect of the event on the Israeli soldiers that Folman was with, more than twenty years later.

Though the style of drawings used in the film look more like certain edgier books being published by Vertigo and even Marvel Comics, the animation used some of the same process of Richard Linklater's rotoscoping made famous by his movie Waking Life in 2001. Waltz with Bashir sometimes resembles Waking Life in it's discussion of memory, philosophy and psychology, but I don't want to make too much of the comparison. Waking Life sounds like dorm room psuedo-intellectual crap (as far as I can remember), while Waltz for Bashir, even as it meanders through interviews and events with little regard for structure, is contantly compelling. It's vagueness makes the viewer want more, as opposed to less (as in boredom induced by Waking Life).

Many of the subjects of the interviews are replaced by voice actors and animated characters that don't resemble their real life counterparts. The film weaves in between the interviews, as well as images of the war and the events leading up the massacre, but the cuts are often confusing and abrupt. The basic premise is that Ari Folman realizes that he can't remember that part of the war, and he interviews other soldiers to ask them what had happened, hoping to find his own memory. Through friends, he learns a lot about what was happening at the time, as well as their different reactions to the post traumatic stress, one soldier who sees the dogs that he killed in his dreams, another who feels no psychological trauma at all. It becomes a series of fictionalized memories from different perspectives, which is why it is more like a memoir than a documentary. It's less about the event itself, and more about the way the event has shaped the lives of Folman and his friends and fellow soldiers.

14 January 2009

This is kinda crazy

Anthony Lane reviewed both of the movies I saw last week in a recent New Yorker, Valkyrie and Waltz with Bashir. And he says pretty much what I thought about the movies, but I'm going to blog about them anyway, starting with Valkyrie, because I want to think about Waltz with Bashir a little more, and do some research.

I did some cursory research on Valkyrie, enough to get the idea that Tom Cruise's character Claus von Stauffenberg was pretty much exactly in real life the way Cruise plays him in the movie, and that the plot is basically accurate. It's a pretty good conspiracy. Hitler signs the order for the reserve army to arrest all of S.S., assuming that the plot is coming from the S.S., in case he dies. Stauffenberg has to meet with Hitler (played so creepily by David Bamber) in order to get "Valkyrie," the name of the operation, signed. The best line in the movie is when of the reserve army officers tell another reserve army officer "We're the coup, idiot." (I may have added 'idiot'). The movie, and the conspiracy, are ultimately frustrating because the only thing that prevents the conspiracy from working is just bad luck. Hitler gets hit by von Stauffenberg's bomb, but only suffers minor injuries.

Overall, the movie is hard to take seriously, partly because it's all in English, except for the very beginning when we hear Tom Cruise's thoughts fade from German to English. This, along with the acting by most of the officers involved in the conspiracy, which, as Anthony Lane points out, resembles more anxious intellectuals then Nazis (emphasis on Nazis), gives the whole thing a feeling of silliness.

But I do disagree with Lane on one point. He concludes: "Stauffenberg set the noblest of moral examples, but what makes “Valkyrie” more depressing than exciting is that it forces you to ask, against your judgment, what, exactly, he achieved." I think the movie is kind of exciting, because you hope against hope that Hitler is dead until the very end, despite your rational side telling you that, obviously, unless Tom Cruise and director Bryan Singer decided to completely rewrite history, Hitler is still alive. But, more importantly, we know exactly what von Stauffenberg achieved, because he articulates at least once during the movie. He wants the world, and history, to know that not all Germans were going along with Hitler. Maybe he didn't save the world, but it's not insignificant to know that there were Germans who had the courage and freedom of thought to oppose Hitler. Right?