‘Waltz With Bashir’ – The Dialogue

I saw this movie at the Arclight Saturday night.

It was smart, profound and real.

My previous articles on Waltz are here and here.

I’m glad I bought my ticket Friday because the screening was sold out.

Afterwards, movie director Ari Folman spoke.

Interviewer: "Several years ago, at age 40, when you were looking to get of the Israeli reserve army…"

Ari: "You serve until age 50 in the reserves… I was not a big fighter in the reserves. I was a screenwriter. I was writing short instructional movies for TV, like how to defend yourself from the Iranian atomic attack in 60 seconds. I had this agreement with the army. I don’t have to wear a uniform. I don’t have to get out of bed. They can call me whenever they want. So you go to the hospital with your wife so she can give birth and they call you just as he is about to be born. There’s this house there and chemicals, give us 60 seconds. It’s always the wrong time. I told them, I want to get out.

"They said, ‘We’re having this experiment. If you go see the army’s therapist and tell them what you went through in your regular service, we will let you out. I went for it. After eight or ten sessions, I realized it was the first time I heard myself speak about what I went through during the service. The story was not that extraordinary. It was that it was so deep down suppressed. It was not that I had total amnesia. I had the main storyline, but there were black holes. Then I went out and discussed it with my best friends and I realized I knew nothing about what [they went through]. They were the same age."

Interviewer: "You had not kept touch with the soldiers you served with?"

Ari: "I cut ties with all people I served with. I made this decision at age 22. I decided to forget. I worked hard at it. And I did succeed."

"Repression is a great thing. It is a matter of survival."

Interviewer: "The filmmaking was enjoyable, the therapy not so much."

Ari: "The hardest thing was the decision to do the film. Once I made the decision, the film was not so hard."

"In the research, we had more than 100 testimonies… I went through nothing compared to all those other guys who contacted us after we put that ad on the internet. I consider myself lucky."

"It’s an animated film. It never was any other kind of film. Memories of war, subconscious, dreams, lost youth, everything. The only way to combine it into one smooth storyline was through animation."

Interviewer: "If you had, we probably wouldn’t be here."

Ari: "I wouldn’t, and you wouldn’t be here."

"If it would’ve been a classic documentary, you would see middle-aged men telling their memories from the war. Then you’d have to cover it with footage and you can’t find any footage that will resemble what they are talking about. Then if you make a big action war movie with the budget of an Israeli movie, well, it can be sad. There was not any other option."

Ari says the film has led to major discussion in Israel "but not the kind of political discussion I was expecting. I expected it to be immediately categorized as left-wing and anti-Zionist… None of that happened. The film became the darling of the establishment. Wherever I go, there are consuls waiting for me. They pay to send the film all over the world. They have receptions. It’s kind of weird considering how the IDF is shown. They support it for two reasons — it shows Israel is a pluralist country. Here’s a soldier who went to war and he can say whatever he wants. And then, at least in Europe, where people do know a lot of Middle Eastern politics, it is their first time to realize that the Israeli troops didn’t commit the massacres [of Sabrila and Chatilla]. This is propaganda the Israeli government couldn’t buy for money."

Interviewer: "There were eight production babies and three of them were yours."

Ari: "I was pretty busy."

"I wanted to dedicate this film to my sons but my wife wouldn’t let me. Why dedicate them a film with all those bodies at the end? Maybe one day you make a nice love story and you dedicate that to them? I did what she said."

"This is my anti-war declaration. I couldn’t phrase it in any different way. I really hope that when my boys grow up to see the film, there won’t be a lot to discuss about."

"It was complicated. I wanted to show war in a non-glorifying way. No bravery. No glory. No glam. Unlike a lot of American anti-war movies, they tell the kids, see the movie, you see war sucks, but the guys in the movie are really cool and they take it the wrong way and they say, ‘Oh, I want to be in Iraq. Just look at the guy in… Look at the bravery issues. Look at friendship.’

"On the other hand, I didn’t want to show the Israeli soldiers as victims, which is very popular now in Israel. They have this term — shoot and cry. This genre of Israeli movies about soldiers who have to go to war and shoot up other people and then they come back home and they cry. There were other victims on a different scale in this episode. It was complicated in terms of the narrative."

"There are nine interviews in the film and seven of them are the same guy. A couple of them at the last moment got cold feet and they didn’t appear for bizarre reasons. One guy didn’t want people to know he smokes pot. We had to bring in an actor. He listened to the original recordings and we invented a new face."

"I don’t believe films can change the world. They can build bridges. You can’t change public opinion. I was talking to the head of Sony Studios yesterday. He couldn’t understand how the extreme majority of Israeli citizens could love this film and support what’s going on in Gaza every day. I told him this is typically Israeli. Yes, we think this film is essential because it shows you what war is, but sometimes we have to do what we have to do. Unfortunately, it did not change anything."

This is only the second animated Israeli movie. The first one was made in 1961 — Joseph and His Brothers.

There’s a question asking the director if there’s a comparison between the Holocaust and the massacres of Sabra and Chatilla.

Ari: "I have traveled with the film for eight months. Everywhere I go, except Israel, I get asked about the Holocaust. For us, the Holocaust is deep in the DNA. Not just for me, I come from an extreme hardcore Holocaust survivor family. We see footage of massacres, be it Sabra and Chatilla, Rwanda, Bosnia, and it will immediatey spark memory of the past. Never in the history of Israel was there such an outraged response, demonstrations, like the day after the Sabra and Chatilla massacres, although Israeli troops didn’t do it.

"If you ask yourself why, I tell you it was only because of the Holocaust. Immediately after the massacre, people realized that something really wrong went on there with the support and the collaboration of the Israeli government and the Christian regime. They were our allies. They wore IDF uniforms. The demonstrations were held because they couldn’t believe that people with out history could be related to the massacres of Sabra and Chatilla.

"Where the press and the public was obsessed with this comparison was Germany. They couldn’t understand it. Germany is the only territory where the film was distributed and it didn’t work. The Germans said, how could you? And no one came to see the film."

"The film does not compare Israelis with Nazis. Of course I wouldn’t compare Israelis with Nazis because I don’t think Israelis are Nazis."

"The eight months I’ve spent traveling with the film have been much more difficult than the four years I spent making the film, which were great fun."

"When Sony bought the film, I was told I would have to come over for the awards season. I didn’t know what that meant. Now I see there’s the NBA season, the NFL season and the awards season. Every few days there’s a game where I’m competing with the same films, the same directors, since Cannes. They win. I win. They’re really obsessed with prizes here. Every day there’s a new guild. I wake up and there’s a phone call from Israeli radio. "Congratulations, you won the guild of critic writers.’ Wow. It’s the hot season."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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