There are few topics more divisive and polarizing on our campus than that of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Even half a world away, this subject is something that almost no one is willing — or perhaps able — to discuss without involving massive emotional baggage. One side will weep, holding up shocking images of slain children, while the other questions the ethics of using children as human shields. And even as leadership from both sides tries to find a solution, the body count keeps rising.
It’s not the most obvious material for a movie that could be described as anything even close to entertaining, but Ari Folman’s gripping animated documentary is just that. Screening on campus May 4, as part of an Arts & Lectures series, 2008’s Oscar-nominated “Waltz With Bashir” documents Folman’s life as he seeks therapy to unlock years of repressed memories involving his experience as a soldier. The film follows Folman as he examines his past through interviews with his fellow soldiers and receives advice from a therapist.
As it turns out, Folman has quite a bit to repress. As a soldier in the Israeli army (a requirement of all young men and women in Israel), Folman unknowingly assisted in the mass murder of Palestinian refugees during the 1982 Lebanon War. For 20 years he managed to lock these memories away, but after a terrifying series of recurring dreams, he is finally forced to confront his past.
The hallucinatory surrealism of his faulty memories is a good match for the look of the film’s animation. The documentary is set up as a talking-heads type documentary where people describe the past. However, instead of cutting to old photos and stock footage, the movie takes us right into the middle of the conflict. Reality bends as the situation escalates. We see many tragicomic vignettes about failed heroism and ineffective methods of waging war.
The battle scenes are tense and appropriately horrifying, and the war of attrition is manifested in surprisingly effective and concise ways. And, surprisingly enough, the movie is also very funny. Some scenes take on the feel of a Vonnegut novel as the various protagonists find themselves shooting out into the night totally unaware of who or what they should be aiming for.
As things progress and get more and more grim, the dream scenes occur less and less often. The faux glamour of the heroic warrior is stripped away, one layer at a time. The delusions and self-aggrandizement of the men fades. The romanticism turns grey, revealing the soft spot that memory creates, and the way it tricks you into remembering a version of the event rather than the event itself.
In the end, there is no more happy cartoon image; there is only the cold, sad truth of the video footage. Dead bodies piled up, waist high; old women crying; murdered children -atrocities.
Folman’s alternately haunting and hilarious opus has more to say about the failings of Israel and the responsibility of Muslim establishment than do a thousand lame chalk taunts from either side of our campus debate. This is a film to see, no matter your stance on Israel. It will challenge your mind and reward your attention. And, if you stop and think with an open mind, you might even learn a thing or two.
The movie will screen Monday, May 4 and is $5 for students and $6 for the general public.