January 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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The Vintage Where The Grapes Of Wrath Are Stored.

WALTZ WITH BASHIR: Mad Dogs In The Night. Director Ari Folman. Rated A

THE READER: Director Stephan Daldry, with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes. Rated A.

The Unexamined Life.


This is an autobiographical film by Ari Folman. The opening sequence is a pack of ravenous dogs chasing a child or maybe a man. It is part of recurring nightmare that a friend of Folman has and he seeks to understand why as he suspects it has something to do with their wartime service in Lebanon. It is an experience Folman has little or no memory of at least not in his conscious recollection.

The film is about Folman visiting with old comrades to understand the nightmare. By talking to his fellow soldiers, who all have moved on in life, he pieces to together events that occurred nearly twenty five years ago in Lebanon when an atrocity was committed against Palestinian Refugees.

The picture was originally shot as a conventional documentary and then processed into an animated documentary.

Folman gives the film a dream like feel almost as if the author is exploring his own subconscious.

By visiting and talking to his fellow conscripts he learns of incidents that in the end reveals to him that the suppressed memories he is seeking to revive are the slaughter of children, women, old men and allegedly Palestinian fighters in The Palestinian refuge camps named Shatila and Sabra in Lebanon.

The camps were in control of the Israeli Army surrounded by their armored vehicles. (This takes place allegedly when the main body of Palestinian fighters has left for Tunis under a cease fire agreement. a fact not disclosed in the film.) The Christian Phalangist militia was invited by the Israeli’s to clean up the remnants of any Palestinian fighters in the camps. However the Phalangists slaughtered men, women and children savagely and indiscriminately.

Folman learns that he and his fellow soldiers are complicit in the slaughter even to the point of firing flares to aid the Phalangists bent on revenge for the assassination of their beloved leader Bashir Gamayel two days before. Over three days the Phalangists roamed the camps executing and killing numerous Palestinians. The Israeli troops stood by in their tanks and armored vehicles surrounding the camps not preventing what they could have prevented and perhaps were conspirators complicit in instigating the massacre on a senior level. The Minister of Defense at the time, Ariel Sharon, was later dismissed by a subsequent investigation by the Israeli Government and banned from serving as a Defense Minister in the future.

Folman doesn’t level blame in the film against anyone and just documents what happened and that the lower level soldiers did not know or understand what was taking place.

However it is evident his psyche was disturbed and he unconsciously feels he and the other soldiers were duped into complicity with out knowing the criminality of the Phalangist slaughter. In the end the film leaves the viewer to ruminate as to who is responsible for the outrages that occur during war, the low level soldiers, or the generals and the policy makers who place their men in position to aid evil and possibly to do evil with out understanding the morality of their acts .

THE READER: The Unexamined Life.

Waltz can be compared with the Reader. It is a film with Kate Winslet playing an illiterate German concentration camp guard, Hanna Schmitz. David Kross plays Michael Berg as a teenager. Ralph Fiennes plays Berg as a law student and lawyer. She befriends the teenage Berg after the war when she is working as an assistant trolley conductor. She is his first initiation into sex.

Later as, a law student attending a trial, Berg learns that she was responsible for the death of numerous Jewish prisoners she was transporting to another camp when they were locked in a church for the night. That night Allied fire bombs hit the church and most of the prisoners were burned to death because the guards would not unlock the church doors.

The term “reader” refers to Michael Berg, who when he becomes Winslet’s lover he also serves as her reader. Although illiterate she has an affinity for good literature and even as a guard had the Jewish prisoners read to her. Later when the affair is long over Fiennes as a law student attends her trial by happenstance and learns for the first time that Winslet is accused of crimes she committed as a guard. Like Folman, Winslet is not immediately conscious of the immorality of her acts. She saw herself as conscientiously carrying out her duties to the State even to the extent of allowing prisoners to burn to death.

“I was only following my duties as guard.”

She is allowed to testify. The more sophisticated guards, who denied any responsibility for the event, make her the scapegoat by her own testimony believing she was only doing her duty to the Third Reich. She is sentenced and serves twenty years in prison while the other, obviously more guilty and literate, guards get short sentences. The picture infers that the court was unaware of her illiteracy and Hanna testifies she wrote the official report to the higher command, as if she was in charge, to cover up her shame of being illiterate.

Fiennes is conflicted to learn that this woman who tenderly initiated him into sex when he was fifteen could also be the callous guard responsible for the loss of so many lives. Over the period of her incarceration Fiennes sends her his readings of the books she seeks on tape. This also inspires her to become literate. Her self education makes her become aware of the wrongfulness of her acts as a guard. A job she left a production line at a manufacturing plant for because she thought she was advancing herself in the world.

Both these films show the ignorance of low level persons carrying out state policies as to the consequences and morality of their acts. They defer the issues or right or wrong to their leaders. In both films the protagonists many years later, upon reflection, are overwhelmed by guilt caused by their role in the events. In Hanna’s case she goes to prison and suffers other psychic consequences.

Ari Folman suffers deep subconscious consequences which he may not have purged himself of by making this film.

An interesting fact in Waltz is that the Doctrine of Command Responsibility was not enforced against the Israeli leadership or the Phalangist leaders except for the dismissal of Ariel Sharon as Defense Minister at the time.

Both these films are excellent explorations of who bears the responsibility for evil acts, those who make policy or those who blindly follow orders or both. They also show that the involvement in evil acts, even unwittingly, causes damage not only to the victims but to the low level perpetrators who may be unaware of the immorality of their acts at the time committed. To the people caught up in these events their loyalty and obedience to the state or their superiors in command seems to blot out the moral ramifications of their acts. However on later reflection, except for the truly criminal personality, they experience psychic consequences.