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Walzing with Bashir

Watching Walzing with Bashir is a traumatising experience.
This important film in Hebrew, written and directed by Israeli Ari Folman, challenges Israeli  collective amnesia about  their involvement in the Lebanese war in 1982 ; and especially about Israeli culpability in the massacres of Shatila and Sabra. It even goes so far as to draw comparisons between the Palestinian refugees massacred and the  concentration camps of WW2 and the  Warsaw Ghetto. As Palestinians were led out of the camps onto trucks by the Christian Phalangist militias,  they were watched by the Israeli  army who failed to intervene  and taken to be massacred . Some would say this is a brave comparison, some would say its an  offensive statement for an Israeli to make.  

The film itself uses animation to create a dreamlike and hyper-real quality in muted colours,  to follow the protagonist,  an Israeli soldier, who fought during the Lebanese war in the 1980s, recover his repressed memories.  By following a series of narrators, (soldiers in the same unit as the protagonist), the viewer can piece together the fragments to come up with a coherent sequence of events.

As the therapist  friend says to the soldier " the only solution is to find out what really happened and to find out what role you really played."  The film is fascinated by the repression of memories and guilt and the way post traumatic stress disorder can lead to  a disassociation from events. This analysis could as easily be applied to the nation as a whole.  Yet the film is so affecting because it explores the impact of war on the soldiers who have to fight it, the dehumanisation, the acts of horror and insanity, the relationship between war and masculinity. In a telling scene the soldiers on their leave from the front drink beer, shoot cans with machine guns and watch hard core pornography. It reminded me of a scene from Apocalypse Now. Surely it is commenting on the pornographic nature of war and  the close relationship between sex and death. Death for Deaths sake. We see the fear of the 19 year old soldiers who often act impulsively killing whole families for no reason. The casual way in which leaders treat not only their enemy but their own men. 

The film is deeply critical of the Phalangists, who are accused of having an almost erotic fascination with Bashir their leader. It states that when he is killed its almost as if he was their wife, and revenge for his death leads to deep  and unremitting cruelty.  The very title evokes images of a a romantic dance, a series of moves and rules.. The film  also challenges Israel to take responsibil;ity for the massacre and in particular Ariel Sharon,  who thanks the commander for bringing the massacre to his attention, but does nothing to stop it.  

The film ends by cutting to real life colour images from the massacre, piles upon piles of bodies sticking out of rubble. Women screaming and keening obviously not  knowing where to turn or run to. These people had already fled once, they had/have nowhere to run to, they can't go home, not unlike the refugee camps in Gaza during the incursion in January. Is Folman trying to say that until Israel accepts its role in massacres such as Shatila and Sabra, that rather like Freud’s return of the repressed or Jung’s collective unconscious or animus it  is destined tobecome a militaristic monster? The audience were left in silence. 


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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