memories: Waltz With Bashir.
by Ari Folman
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.
the Right One In
by Tomas Alfredson
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.