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This week:
Waltz with Bashir

Filthy says:
"It's great that our memories suck!"

This week I tried pretty hard to avoid the Valentine's lovey-dovey bullshit at the movie theaters by going to the artsy-fartsy Landmark Chez Artiste. Honest to God, that's the name of the theater. It's French for "Artist's House", because, you know, calling a theater that only shows fancy movies an arthouse isn't pretentious enough. Especially a shitty, rundown one with a crap sound system and tiny screens in a Strip Mall. I have a soft spot for the Chez Artiste, though. One time the cashier let me in to Tree's Lounge for free because she was allowed to let two people in a day, and there was something about my new haircut that made her pity me.

The 52 goes past my regular theater and I saw its lot full of minivans and SUVs. People around here think a romantic night is dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, a moonlit stroll across the parking lot, and then a dick-shriveling romantic comedy like Confessions of a Shopaholic. Nothing says "I love you" like pretending you think it's funny when someone says girls love to shop. Later, my city was filled with the sounds and smells of cheap champagne, nitrous poppers, bad sex, the greasy runs and barbecue sauce burps. I was damn glad I made the 97-minute bus ride to the other side of Denver.

My thinking in making the trip was that the rich, life-of-leisure people who hang out at foreign films are too enlightened for the gimmickry of Valentine's Day. They're probably all in open relationships, having herniating tantric sex with Europeans and filming it in black and white. They don't need Hallmark to designate the one day a year that anal sex and lingerie are okay. I thought the theater wouldn't be crowded. I was wrong. Turns out, the highbrow crowd is just as fucking gullible and needy for affection as us ditch-diggers.

The bourgeois transit-riding-not-because-they-have-to-but-because-they-can crowd was at the Chez Artiste in pairs. They held hands and made out and other shit to make me feel like a weirdo for being alone. (Mrs. Filthy celebrated Valentine's Day by watching old tapes of PBS adaptations of Bronte and Austen books. She did give me a box of Whitman chocolates, though, or someone at her work gave her one, and she left it on the counter.) The difference, I guess, between us hoi polloi and the downtowners is not that they don't celebrate the crass, consumer holidays. It's that they do it not with cheap meat and romantic comedies, but by seeing thoughtful Israeli films about the long-term psychic brutality of war, and then probably go home to watch equally disturbing German porn.

Writer-director Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir is a semi-documentary, animated in a bold-angular comic-book style. One night at a bar, Folman's friend describes a recurring nightmare about 26 rabid dogs chasing him down the streets. When Folman asks how he knows 26, his friend says it's because that's how many he had to kill during the Lebanon War of the early eighties. He remembers what every single one of them looked like and where he was when he killed them.

Folman remembers nothing of his time in the war, and that disturbs him. He doesn't know what he had done-or been involved in--during that time. This is the impetus for the movie. He documents his visit to a therapist friend who explains to him the unreliability of memory. It's a fucking brilliant frame for the story.

What Folman learns is that memories are way more arbitrary than we want to believe. What we remember may never have happened, and things that did happen may not have taken place the way we remember. Our brain has the capacity to fill in blanks when it can't comprehend or remember details and events. We also have the reflexive function that can prevent us from entering the darkest corners of our own memory. That last bit scares the shit out of me; if I remember digging out one of my own ribs with a spoon because I was high on model glue and thought I swallowed a quarter, what sort of shit am I being protected from? Oh, and don't worry. I learned my lesson. I use a different brand of glue now ad wait until I pass loose change before retrieving it.

Folman travels across Europe and Israel to talk to the people with whom he fought in the Lebanon war. One memory returns: of him and his platoon emerging from the sea, naked, to be met by a swarm of wailing Palestinian women. Each of Folman's fellow soldiers has one or two distinct memories of the war. He isn't sure he can trust it. His comrades remember other events: being so scared upon landing on a beach that they emptied their automatics into the first thing that moved: a sedan containing a family. Another is of the troop under attack and abandoning one member who had to swim miles to safety. The most vivid and horrific is when the Israelis controlled the perimeter of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, while their convenient allies, the Lebanese Phalangist Christians, massacred thousands of the refugees inside. The Israelis were aware of the massacre and did nothing. Folman's troop mates were made aware and alerted their superiors, who intentionally didn't act.

After each story is related to him, Folman honestly asks if he was there. He was. He just doesn't remember. One thing is clear: no matter how much training and preparation, these very young men and they were not prepared for war. War forced them to do and see things they weren't prepared for and didn't want to do. All are still haunted. In the case of the massacre, the men live with the realization that by doing little, they were complicit in the murder of thousands of young men, women and children. Maybe Folman is lucky that he can't remember. Or, maybe he is unlucky that he can't mourn and regret it.

The story's animation is a damn good device to separate Folman and the actions he can't remember. They look surreal and fantastic, not visceral. The images represent horrible things, but they are of cartoon figures, not real flesh and blood. Which is how they feel to Folman. He can believe they are true, but he can't know it because he has no firsthand experience. It's sort of the opposite of being half asleep and all your extremities feel freakishly enormous. You know they aren't, but the feeling is still there. Here, Folman can't feel what happened, but he believes it did.

In the Waltz With Bashir's one moment lacking of subtlety, Folman uses real, archival footage of the Sabra and Shatila massacres to drive home his final point. They did happen, regardless of whether he remembers them or being there. That he can't remember in no way diminishes their horror. I don't have a better way to the end the movie or make the point that Folman has, but it is jarring and inelegant to leave the hazy world of remembrance for this. It's disturbing, and I'm sure that's what Folman wants, but it's a disappointing way to end an otherwise almost perfectly crafted movie. Prior to that scene, the movie is internal and reflective. Then, it's not. It's the evening news.

Up to that point, though, this is a movie that is not enjoyable. It's better than that. It's some deep-thinking shit. It's about the atrocity of war, it's about how war impacts its participants beyond taking them away for years. And it's about our own reliance on memory and the dangers of trusting it. Folman makes Waltz with Bashir great because he never pushes and never has an agenda beyond truly wanting to understand what he had been part of and forgotten. The story is told in the unflinching and almost unfeeling voices of his comrades. Their voices sound normal but reflect that these memories are heavy shit to carry around. It's animated, but not flashy. This isn't the work of some hack film school showoff. It is the best way to present what Folman knows and wants to know.

It's a great fucking movie. A high Four Fingers for Waltz with Bashir, even if it didn't put me in the mood to go home and wake Mrs. Filthy up so we could stain the sofa.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Evergreen Pete Hammond of Hollywood.com

Fanboys is "Hilarious! It's a blast! The comic force is with Fanboys!"

Confessions of a Shopaholic is also "Hilarious! Confessions is a non-stop laughing spree!"

Non-stop? Really? Never stopping for the entire running time? Even the cliterectomy scene?

Filthy's Reading
Warren Adler - Funny Boys
(it sucks)

Listening to
The Obits - One Cross Apiece