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Recovered memories: Waltz With Bashir.

Memento

By Laura Leon

Waltz With Bashir

Directed by Ari Folman

Back in the early 1980s, international events were percolating in a way that got many college-agers like myself actively involved in politics. At the very least, there was, for many, a burgeoning literacy with respect to global affairs. A lot of this was tied to music—the Clash, the Specials, etc., forged new interest with lyrics that went beyond the usual “She loves you” to topics that made us—well, me—do some research. Why exactly were the United States and the then-Soviet Union involved in places like Chile, Nicaragua and Afghanistan? Despite all this, the rumblings of discontent and saber rattling in the Middle East got catalogued in the mindset that this never-ending turmoil between the Israelis and Arabs—any Arabs—was just par for the historical course. And so, despite worldwide condemnation of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, for many of us, it didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Indeed, seeing Waltz With Bashir, I had to rack my brains for a few minutes to try to remember where and when this invasion took place.

The idea of collective amnesia or selective memory is central to the plot of Ari Folman’s Golden Globe-winning rotoscope-animated movie, which traces its writer-director’s quest to salvage his own experiences in the invasion, when he was a 19-year-old member of the Israeli Defense Forces. Central to Ari’s problem, as well as to the entire Lebanese debacle, was a massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp, which, he tells a fellow memory-addled veteran, he knows he should remember, but which he cannot—except for hallucinatory images of walking naked from the sea into an oncoming swarm of Lebanese women. Goaded into action by a psychiatrist friend, Ari begins the process of interviewing former friends and army colleagues to fill in the gaps. Eventually he ends up casting his net wider in an attempt to get at the truth.

What, as any student of history or literature (or good film) can attest, is the truth? As with other movies that set about solving a mystery, either physical or emotional, involving a war, Waltz With Bashir delves into the problems of dealing with multiple perspectives, lapses of time, real-time confusion and panic in a hellish scenario, and, lastly, the brain’s natural defense mechanism to block out certain horrors. If anything, the movie is a thought-provoking, electrifying analysis of how the sense of self, both individually and culturally, defines our ability to recognize truth and reality.

One might expect the usual reactions, as Ari begins to get closer to his memories, that might populate a more mainstream movie, but Waltz with Bashir goes deeper. Using ugly yellows, khaki greens, and steely grays, Folman’s trek back in time reveals what a live-action movie is unable to. The freakish descents into madness and the nonchalant attitudes toward human life blend seamlessly, if horrifically, with moments in which a character remembers helping his mother make dinner, or when another recalls a fantasy in which a giant sea goddess lifts him from harm’s way. Ultimately, even this technique cannot depict the atrocity of Sabra and Shatila, and Folman wisely slips to actual footage of Lebanese widows and mothers of the slain howling in agonizing, pitiful pitch, giving voice to what memory and written stories cannot. It’s powerful filmmaking, made all the more so by Folman’s wise choice to follow this heartbreaking montage with utter blackness and sheer silence, as if to ponder, into this void, memory.

Rue Love

Let the Right One In

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

“I’m not a girl,” warns Eli (Lina Leandersson), but Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), an ethereally pretty 12-year-old boy, is so desperate for a friend that he ignores the comment. Eli is also 12, but as she wearily adds, she’s been 12 for a long time. The two misfits—Eli recently moved in next door from parts unknown—meet at night on a snow-covered jungle gym at their apartment complex. Oskar confides to her what he’s been hiding from his mother: that he is viciously bullied at school. Eli encourages him to fight back, but Oskar is preternaturally passive. “I’ll help you,” she says. “I can do that.”

Eli’s friendly assurance is one of the most chilling moments in Let the Right One In, a vampire film from Sweden that puts the horror back in vampire tales. Though the protagonists are teens, the carnage they experience is as far from the stylized Twilight as the cinder-block suburb they inhabit. Eli doesn’t fly through forests with a romantic whoosh; instead, she crouches in a tree crook like an animal, requiring only her large eyes and strangely powerful hands to convey her bestial nature. Oskar, who practices revenge fantasies with a knife, is just as solitary. They bond, almost silently, over a Rubik’s Cube, and the intensity of their mutual loneliness is reflected by the disquieting stillness of the cinematography. It’s an anticipatory hush, as the film’s reflective interludes lead to outbreaks of violence—school bullies gash Oskar’s face with a stick, Eli tears out the throat of an inebriated passerby—that are even more disturbing because of the ordinariness of their circumstances.

Adapted by John Ajvide Lindquist from his best-selling novel, Let the Right One In is peculiarly faithful to vampire lore despite its bizarre setting in 1980s Stockholm, where neighbors talk ominously of Russian immigrants and mistrust the local law enforcement. The frigid surroundings, and dismal interiors (worn Swedish moderne), are jarringly enlivened by colorful knit clothing. At one point, a victim is disposed of with an orange plastic sled. Unlike Romanian peasants, however, Eli’s neighbors have no preconceptions whatsoever about the murderer in their midst, which adds to their terror. Leandersson is mesmerizing as the raven-haired predator, a creature from folklore untainted by HBO.

Yet this art-house gore flick is also a love story (the title is taken from a Morrissey song), and is one of the most original in recent memory. The mindless cruelty of the classmates who torment Oskar seems somehow more heinous than Eli’s necessary savagery. “Try to be me,” she implores Oskar when he drifts away in revulsion. But parting is just the buildup to a conclusion that is shocking, creepy, and oddly touching.

—Ann Morrow


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