Like South Africa, Israel Art Starting To Show Cracks In System
For the second year in a row, Israel nominated a war film for best foreign film and lost.
But for one who has witnessed art destroying a repressive regime, it is good news that they are making these films. Nobody likes to be hated.
I can’t get out of my mind the last chapter of book “The Face of Battle.” The author makes the point that as we evolve we just can’t handle being on combat lines for weeks at a time. I hope so.
I have seen just about every war film since “The Grand Illusion” and “All Quiet On The Western Front.” Israel’s contender this year, the animated “Waltz With Bashir,” was outstanding. So was last year’s, “Beaufort,” but it was painful to watch.
Neither film presents the soldiers as knights in shining kevlar, even though an old crusader’s castle is the set for “Beaufort.”
“Bashir” was based on a true story. A filmmaker, Ari Folman, who had been sent to Lebanon in 1982 as a 19-year-old, had a memory block. Making a movie based on interviews was a way to find out what he did during the invasion.
The story can’t and doesn’t have a happy ending.
It also couldn’t be more timely with Israel accused of war crimes by Amnesty International. The human rights group says Israel violated international law by using phosphorus weapons in civilian areas. Tel Aviv denies the charge.
And the recurring dreams filmmaker Folman is having are just like those American soldiers suffer when they return from Iraq or Afghanistan. Not even Freud could interpret them with any certainty because of internal censorship employed by the mind.
“Waltz With Bashir” is more than that. Along with “Beaufort,” it shows that Israeli soldiers are not invincible and cannot evade the moral dilemma of being in combat where the enemy can be a woman or a child _ or not.
I marveled at the plays and musicals South Africa would allow on the stages of Johannesburg. I kept thinking “Don’t they get it.” One was outrageous, “Woza Albert,” which imagined the second coming of Christ in South Africa. Plenty of white South Africans were already troubled by what their country was doing. And they faced nothing compared to what Israel does.
Now Israel has admitted its complicity in the massacre of an unknown number of refugees, perhaps several thousand, in its invasion of Beirut in 1982. The Knesset had to approve Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir” before it could be nominated.
I have seen dozens and dozens of war and anti-war films, all the way back to “The Grand Illusion” and “All Quiet On The Western Front,” and “Waltz” ranks at the top. Perhaps that is partly because it is not a story about Rome, Germany, the United States or another superpower that could easily send replacements for those they lost.
Israel, like it or not, is more comparable to a citizen-state like Sparta, fighting for its survival. Whether this is the best way to guarantee it is another question.
An animated film may be the best way to display all the emotions. Last year, Israel’s “Beaufort,” also a war story but a conventional motion picture lost in its bid for best foreign picture, the first Oscar nomination for the country in 24 years.