25
Nov 08

Waltz! with Martin Bashir

FT3 comments • 297 views

In which the somewhat feeble journalist, coasting on past “not exactly glories”, goes undercover on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing. Unfortunately not being au fait with the current scandal on Strictly he does not realise that pretending to be one of the ugly ones out of East 17 is a pointless disguise. Indeed ex-ITV journalists are positively welcomed on Strictly Come Dancing. Nevertheless, as revealed in this groundbreaking documentary for Sky 2, Waltz! with Martin Bashir, will show that the judges eat babies, the pro-dancers are all genetically modified gazelles and Tess Daly is a man in drag.

Despite being presented by Martin Bashir, I think I would rather see Waltz! with Martin Bashir over Waltz With Bashir. I would have been prepared for disappointment (I did see the Michael Jackson interview after all). The much lauded Israeli animated war documentary left me cold and with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Which is a great pity because the format and the treatment I loved. The use of animation to capture fleeting memories, to reconstruct actions which are lost to the ether seemed like a terrific technique. And to some extents it is. The animation has a striking style and works best when coupled with the fervent soundtrack (the Enola Gay sequence, pitching a song about war with a different war – all to a jaunty beat is terrific). However this is just half of Waltz With Bashir, and cannot compensate for the story.

The premise is the film-maker was in Beirut during the Lebanon – Israel war in 1982. He ended up being within 500 yards of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, the notorious mass murder of Palestinians by the Israeli backed Phalangists. And yet he doesn’t really remember it. So he asks other people he knew from the war to build up a picture. And no-one really remembers it all that well. They know it was something bad, they know that the Israeli army they were conscripted into might have a degree of culpability (as Ariel Sharon eventually had to admit). But the film is about memory, not the massacre.

It just seemed to me that these middle class Israeli’s, scattered across the world, worried about their part in something horrible probably have a bit better than the survivors of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. People who would probably love to forget what happened. And so the naval gazing of the film, tiptoeing around the horrors to exorcise the disquiet of its protagonists seemed a little offensive to me. The story is interesting, and perhaps the most delicate way to broach the subject to an Israeli audience. But to me it seemed self indulgent – an indulgence oddly multiplied by the final news footage shots of the aftermath of the massacre. Horrific, terrible – but until that moment never really the subject of the film. And something the animation steers clear of.

So there is some great animation and a serious topic. But what there is most of is some rather dull animation and self indulgence. After all the talking head interviews are animated too, less successfully (perhaps because animating a middle aged man in a room is less striking than a teenage soldier under fire). Some of the failings are not those of the film itself, rather its privileged position in being my first real exposure since the news of the time (when I was nine) to this story. Maybe I need a straight explanation of the factions in this war before I get into the way it scarred its protagonists. But even the films title distracts from what it is about. A throwaway line in the film, becomes a powerful image but this film is not about Bashir or his death at all. And its not even about the massacre. I wanted to like it, but in the end I did not believe in its central character not remembering anything about such an important day. And believing the film-maker in a documentary, even an animated documentary, is pretty important.

Comments

  1. 1
    Tracer Hand on 28 Nov 2008 #

    I always thought the point of cartoons was to exaggerate and do impossible things with the physicality of life, so this rotoscoping craze – OK maybe not a craze – sort of hangs limply for me. It seems too bound to dull old real bodies.

  2. 2
    pete on 28 Nov 2008 #

    Both of Linklaters rotoscoped films use it perfectly, first as a way of streching reality for dreams and secondly for drug states in a Scanner Darkly. I can see how it could work in Waltz With Bashir, but
    a) its not strictly rotoscoping
    b) it does not stretch the memory enough to make the reality feel different. And cannot (and will not) do the massacre in ink.

  3. 3
    Ryan on 5 Dec 2008 #

    Ahh but Rotoscoping this film lulled me into a false sense of security that I would not have had with a proper ‘film’ film.
    It made it more fantasy then when its not used it makes the point more poigniant.

    Perfect.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page