Sunday, August 31, 2008

Valse Avec Bachir


Unlike many, I have a great fondness for epic and self-indulgent films. So much so, in fact, that I almost prefer them to solid, plot-driven films like "The Visitor". As stated many a previous entry, when it comes to the question of style versus substance, it's style all the way. "Valse Avec Bachir" was breathtaking in this respect, difficult in others. I'm not sure whether it was a culture barrier (I saw this in a French movie theatre with French subtitles, so my knowledge of the plot might be a tad stilted), but by the ending credits of this well-paced 90-minute film, they were breathless. They sat through the entire ending credits, leaving me-- antsy, lost in Paris, extremely hungry--forced to stay the extra 5 minutes with them. I thought I heard a neighboring woman force back a sob at the end.

The themes are some of my favorite film archetypes: the (blurry) division between fantasy and reality, the absurdity and profoundness of human suffering, the anguish and trauma of war, the immense guilt following the realization of one's use as a political and military tool of war, the loss of human identity... but I'll stop before this becomes any more pretentious than it already is. I have an embarassing ability of "giving it all away" in movie reviews, so I'll keep this (relatively) brief. An Israeli man, twenty years after his obligatory service in the army and the war with Lebanon (in which he was a soldier), has forgotten all of his gruesome military past... that is, until, via a friend's account of a bizarre dream, his memory jolts, and all flows back to him. But is it real? Is he "making up" false memories? And how large of a part did he really play in the brutalities of this war?

I found it astounding that such a self-reflective, self-critical film can come out of warmongering, terrifyingly proud Israel (forgive me for the criticism, though I do love the country, very much). Details about the Israelis do not go unnoticed: reflections about the holocaust, the very Jewish look about their mothers and families (aquiline noses, thick dark hair of the Ashkenazi, light eyes, often a sad and surly expression). Then there are other details: a single soldier donning a yarmulke, a painfully slow application of the teffilin, a flashback of a mother frying latkes in a pan... I couldn't help wondering if the French, known for their antisemitism, would get these references. The main theme, the basic thesis underlying the story, was probably obvious to all: we have become them-- the murderers of our families, the brutal culture we have never been.

This depth makes it extraordinarily difficult to watch; I couldn't imagine anyone in my immediate family not bursting into tears, however much they claim to dislike animated movies. I, however, am more than a bit obsessed with cartoons and animation, and did not as much as tear up during the course of the film. Stylistically, it's astounding, shot in what I assume is the rhetroscopic film editing of Linklater fame in "A Scanner Darkly", and, less so, in "Waking Life". Most likely the film was shot normally, and the colors and scenery enhanced with computer animation. The animation is dreamlike, although stilted at times. It's extremely obvious when an action is drawn with the computer as opposed to shot on film; for example, a man dancing all-too-repetitively, two men with suspiciously even and baritone voices after a hit of a joint, which, though in Amsterdam, seems to have no more of an effect than a (tobacco) cigarette. Regardless, beautiful.

Also worth mentioning: the music. One of the things that make this movie so self-indulgent is how score/soundtrack-driven it is. It's a lot like the French movie "Heartbeat Detector" in this way, and, to some extent, Donnie Darko-esque (although nothing in "Valse avec Bachir" has anything to do with sulky superhero types, enormous rabbit costumes, or paranoid schizophrenia). But don't take my word for it: see it! There are only 3 reviews of the thing on rottentomatoes. For god sakes, people! Go for it!

1 comment:

A.A. Dowd said...

Sounds really good. Is it available stateside?

Unrelated, but you'll love it:

http://mcsweeneys.net/2008/9/2rhode.html