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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
to tell Filthy Something?