There’s been some discussion about how Persepolis and Waltz the Bashir have brought animation to ‘maturity’ with their serious take on the world. No doubt this remark has been made many times and is a symptom of people suddenly having their preconceptions about animation challenged. Why animate a film/drama documentary about the massacres in Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon, 1982 (Robert Fisk is by far the best British foreign correspondent – here’s a recent report)?
Writer-producer-lead actor-director Ari Folman structures the film around his attempt to remember what role, if any, he played in the massacres when he was serving, as a 19 year old, in the Israeli army. The film covers his quest and, given the unrealiability of memory, and the importance of dreams in revealing and suprressing memories, animation is the perfect medium to render the surreal mix uncovered by Folman.
I had a sense that Folman was speaking to an Israeli audience who are in denial about the atrocities and so gently guides us/them to the truth. By focusing on individuals, mostly teenage boys entirely out of their depth, we see the Israeli participants as victims also; though obviously not in the same way the Palestinians were. Is this an apologia? I don’t think so; I think Folman is looking for the truth and the final image we have of him is of as a man-boy in shock as the survivors leave the camp. The shock is obviously caused by what he’s seeing but is also the contemporary Folman who has, at last, remembered his complicity in the massacre. It is a brave person who publicly admits such culpability.
The Palestinians have no voice, except the wailing women at the end, but this is about the Israeli experience. Of course it would be near-impossible for Palestinians to have their say – but their story needs to be told.
Visually, the film is stunning; cities turned into Ballardian landscapes; the dream sequences mixing horror and beauty; a terrific use of music (PIL’s ‘This Is Not a Love Song’ accompanying Folman on furlough). The image above is a scene where Folman goes to war in a ‘love boat’; or rather, partying on an old boat. There are no women but he dreams of this giant woman rescuing him from war. Women rarely feature in the film; but there are two mothers and one jilting girlfriend.
At the end, the rotoscoped animation morphs into reality with BBC and ITV news footage of the aftermath of the massacre. Inevitably it is a devastating moment but wholly in keeping with the film’s intent: to render the memories into a reality.
It’s the best film I’ve seen this year.