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'Waltz With Bashir'

Ari Folman's Oscar-nominated documentary-animation film shines a personal light on Israel's invasion of Beirut.

February 06, 2009|Reuters

You can't see "Waltz With Bashir" legally in Lebanon but you can buy copies of the Oscar-nominated Israeli antiwar film in Beirut's Hamra district, where director Ari Folman saw his life change 26 years ago.

"It's one of the greatest films I've ever seen," said Lokman Slim, an activist with Lebanon's UMAM organization, which aims to preserve the country's memories of war by screening movies related to its decades of bloodshed.

"I feel jealous that those we should consider our enemies have the courage to revisit events in which they were involved, while we Lebanese are in an endless silence regarding our history."

"Waltz With Bashir" -- the title conveys Israel's alliance with Lebanon's Christian leader at the time, Bashir Gemayel -- mixes documentary and animation to depict the trauma of an Israeli invasion 26 years ago to expel Palestinian guerrillas.

The film ends with the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps of Beirut. Folman's army unit, ordered to help the Christian Falangist militia secure the camps, fired flares that provided light while the killings took place.

Folman was a 19-year-old conscript at the time. His movie has won a Golden Globe for best foreign language film of 2008 and was nominated last month for an Oscar for best foreign film.

In Lebanon, "Waltz" is banned under laws that forbid trade with Israel. But there is huge interest, said Monika Borgmann, who acquired a copy from a German distributor and organized a private screening in Beirut in January.

"I invited 30 people but they brought their friends with them and we ended up being around 90," said Borgmann, who heads UMAM. "When the film finished, people were very, very silent and when they went out, some had tears in their eyes."

Pirated DVD copies now sell for $2 each in the Hamra district, which is featured in the film as the site of fierce battles between Folman's army unit and Palestinian guerrillas.

Not everyone is pleased by how Folman tells the story.

"It only presents part of the truth, not the whole truth. It is as if the director is saying, 'We [Israelis] did not commit this crime, the Falangists did,' " said Ziad Moussa, a retired teacher in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where "Waltz With Bashir" was screened at the Franco-German cultural center. A librarian there said more than 200 Palestinians attended.

Despite his reservations about Folman's depiction of service in Lebanon as an ordeal that left deep psychological scars, Moussa said the film was a "step in the right direction" to healing the Israelis and Palestinians' bloody past.

Israeli film researcher Raya Morag said Palestinian criticism that "Waltz With Bashir" was one-sided was natural, given that it represents Folman's point of view.

"Every people has its own view and own narrative. It is a totally legitimate claim," she said of Moussa's remarks. "If it were a Palestinian filmmaker, it would have presented the Palestinian point of view."

The Sabra and Shatila massacre prompted a world outcry, and in Israel a commission of inquiry found then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon indirectly responsible, forcing him to resign. It said Sharon, who later went on to become prime minister, ignored warnings that the Falangists would massacre Palestinian refugees to avenge the killing of hundreds of Christian civilians by Palestinian guerrillas in southern Lebanon six years earlier.

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