Waltz with Bashir
Guest blogger Bart Weiss sends this report. Bart is the Artistic Director of the Dallas Video Festival.
This week I experienced the horror of war in two cinematic experiences that affected me in dramatically different ways. The first experience came with the first showing in Dallas at the Magnolia Theatre of both parts of the 4 hour and 40 minute epic Che. During my college days, I had a big Che Guevara poster on my door, I had a beret and I probably looked like I just came out of the jungle. Revolution was in the air, and Che was the inspiration. So I had to go. Plus, these kinds of cinematic events are what make a cinephile proud. Seeing 7 1/2 hours of Our Hitler or 894 minutes of Berlin Alexanderplatz get our juices flowing.
But in the end, Steven Soderbergh’s film doesn’t amount to much more than a bunch of guys wandering around trying to survive. The viewer doesn’t really care all that much about them, because they come and go. In the end, Che is just sort of there. We don’t get the insight that we do in say, the classic Battle of Algiers.
But what was lacking in Che is abundant in Waltz with Bashir, which opened Friday at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas. If you have seen any film at the Angelika lately, you have seen the trailer and it is one you can’t forget. It starts with animated menacing dogs running wild and images of Israeli soldiers. From the few minutes of trailer, we are all teased.
The film delivers on that promise. It is an inside look at the violence in the Middle East from the point of view of an Israeli filmmaker trying to remember the horror of the war that his brain suppressed. Searching for the repressed past is an old cinematic theme, just look at all the films dealing with the holocaust (which this film touches on briefly). But this film is totally unique.
There have been many animated documentary/first person films in the last several years. While judging documentaries for the Austin Film Festival, I’ve seen as many animated docs as live action ones. As we are getting in someone’s head, animation can be more expressive with light, shading and color than live action can. It can also show images that are only imagined. So, instead of using CGI to save money the way a Hollywood film would, these animation techniques tackle the challenge a totally different way. The horror is both more abstract and real — real in the way it is felt.
One more interesting thing about the film is the funding. It got money from the Israeli Film Fund, New Israel Foundation for Cinema and Television, ARTE France and ITVS, which is an organization created by Congress to fund Independent Films (American ones) for Public Television. It’s magnificent that so many government-funded agencies put money into this. This film really does push our idea of what a film can be, technically and what it can do for audiences. It broadens the way we feel and understand what war is about.
Waltz with Bashir helps us process and understand the news of the world. Che, on the other hand, is just there.
Image: Sony Pictures Classics