In the animated first-person investigative documentary Waltz with Bashir, which opened last week, Ari Folman uncovers, through interviews with friends, fellow-soldiers and journalists, a repressed memory of his own proximity to, and his country’s complicity in, a massacre of Palestinian civilians during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
That the movie’s animated has been the subject of most critical attention; with most people agree that the stylization makes war a dreamscape, a realm of the subconscious (so, too, does the synth-pop, post-punk and techno soundtrack of original, 80s-vintage and recorded songs). I find a effective too, for one very specific reason.
At the end of the movie, when Folman has completed his task of remembering What He Did in the War, he cuts to a newsman’s footage of the aftermath of the massacre: bloody, murdered women and children; screaming survivors; rubble and a mess of humanity. It’s shocking — not simply for what it shows, but for how it shows it. You mean this repressed memory, this trauma wrapped under layers of defenses, was filmed at the time by a major Israeli journalist? That the memories were hiding in plain sight suggests that the act of forgetting was more than a bit willful.
As such, Waltz with Bashir — in which an anguished veteran admits that he feels guilt over what he allowed to happen (the often abject interviewees, teens during the war, make something of an implicit protest against compulsory military service), that indeed he feels like a Nazi — is a useful movie to come out right now, amid annual Heroic Holocaust movies like, well, Defiance, that help us in our ongoing act of willfully forgetting that anything has changed about Israel since the 1940s.