“Waltz With Bashir” has been racking up the prizes. In addition to a slew of international awards, it was awarded Best Picture by the National Society of Film Ciritics, Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes, and it seems to have the inside track on the same award at the Oscars this Sunday night. But as “Bashir” amasses its acclaim, some observers are frankly critiquing the film against Israel’s painful present-day reality.
In a recent Nation article, Israeli author Liel Liebovitz wonders why the Israeli public has so thoroughly embraced this fiercely anti-war statement (enough to vote it as their third-favorite Israeli film of all time) while ignoring its “harrowing lessons” through its strong support of their government’s military actions against Gaza.
Liebovitz concludes that “Bashir’s” popularity not withstanding, Israel is sadly disregarding director Ari Folman’s powerfully moral vision – particularly in light of the recent elections:
Israel of today is not Ari Folman’s. It is Avigdor Lieberman’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s, the country of the countless men and women crying out for revenge. As we root for Waltz with Bashir, if we want to truly honor that film’s message, let us never forget that. Otherwise, all we have is just a pretty animated film.
Journalist Naira Antoun, writing in the Electronic Intifada comes to a similar conclusion:
(We) are reminded of the psychologist’s comment near the start of the film: “We don’t go to places we don’t want to. Memory takes us where we want to go.” Perhaps this explains how at the same time that Gaza was being decimated, Israel heaped acclaim and awards on Waltz with Bashir; in addition to numerous international awards, the film scooped up six awards at the Israeli Film Academy. Indeed, the same Israelis who flocked to see the film gave their enthusiastic approval to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. According to a poll released on 14 January by Tel Aviv University, a staggering 94 percent of Israeli Jews supported or strongly supported the operation.
As a Palestinian viewer, however, Antoun goes even farther than Liebovitz: she faults the film for rendering Palestinians essentially invisible:
There is nothing interesting or new in the depiction of Palestinians — they have no names, they don’t speak, they are anonymous. But they are not simply faceless victims. Instead, the victims in the story that Waltz with Bashir tells are Israeli soldiers. Their anguish, their questioning, their confusion, their pain — it is this that is intended to pull us…We don’t see Palestinian facial expressions; only a lingering on dead, anonymous faces. So while Palestinians are never fully human, Israelis are, and indeed are humanized through the course of the film.
Among other things, I think these reviews illuminate the painful difficulties inherent in making an anti-war statement while the war is still raging. A sad anecdote: a congregant recently told me that when she saw the film, a screaming match erupted in the audience after it ended. Apparently someone screamed “That’s Gaza!” to which another responded “Shut up!” and on it went…
And on it goes…
Update 2/23/09: Thanks to Eric for forwarding this devastating Ha’aretz piece re “Bashir” by (who else?) Gideon Levy.