Sam – Waltz with Bashir

Key: Ari Folman digs up his wartime past to truthfully remember a violent, guilt youth that he has repressed into a cartoonish fantasy.

As both filmmaker and protagonist of Waltz with Bashir, Folman is fighting against his own brain’s defense mechanisms. As a character, he cannot remember the most significant events of the 1982 Lebanon War, only a fantasy version. Likewise, as a filmmaker, he presents the story of his involvement in the war as a work of animation, even though it is non-fiction with real interviews and real stories. As Folman’s friends and the psychological experts he meets explain, his fantasies are a form of repression — he only remembers this cartoonish version of events because the real version is far too painful (especially as an Israeli citizen with a national and familial memory of the Holocaust).

By presenting the story as a literal cartoon, filmmaker Folman puts the audience through the same mental jumping jacks: This isn’t really a story of wartime atrocities, it’s a cartoon. He doubles down on this by incorporating original music into the film and letting it break the story into a music video and little fantasy vignettes with only thematic relation to the larger film.

When Folman recalls his wartime furlough (which, he explains, he can always remember perfectly), it is clear why the film looks the way it does, with video game-esque shooting scenes and guns turned into air guitars. As he walks the city, he is surrounded by 80s era pop culture stimulation: Loud music, dozens of televisions, actual music videos and arcade games that replicate the experience of war in a fun, lighthearted way.

The film changes as it goes along, though, and inches more and more towards the documentary that it is. Early on, Waltz with Bashir is all cartoon: Wind-swept dramatic shots out of a noir, action movie-esque set pieces, ethereal lighting, dramatic conversations that hide real interviews. As Folman gets closer to remembering his past, however, the film starts to become more documentary: First he speaks to his interviewees casually, then he speaks to a professor in her office and a lower third appears, but things are still conversational, then, finally, the speakers are placed against a blank wall, telling their stories as if directly to a camera. At last, at the end of the film, Folman has an awakening and the form abruptly shifts and real, non-animated footage of the war appears onscreen. The audience sees women screaming and children lying dead in the streets, just as Folman saw in 1982; Any illusion of a light-hearted, musical cartoon is gone and what is left is the horrifying truth of war.

Folman could have simply told the same story through interviews and B-roll but, as discussed in Crafting Truth, the form of the film is a careful rhetorical decision. Folman makes his argument – war is traumatically violent and veterans can sometimes repress it into a cartoon – by putting the audience through a literal version of that argument. Like Folman struggling against his own defense mechanisms, the audience is set up to be shocked by the ending, by the realization that all the music and animation was covering up something very bad and very real.


Jeniffer – Waltz with Bashir

Key: Ex Israeli soldier and filmmaker Ari Folman waltzes to regain with his lost Lebanese War memories and face his role in the cruel massacre of Palestinian refugees in an animated war documentary.

After meeting with his friend who recounts his nightmare, Ari Folman realizes he has no memories of the war. With the help of his friends, experts and some deep soul-searching he has a vision of being on the beach the night of the massacre. While Folman can’t determine is the vision is true, it depicts him struggling to keep his head above the water, just as he struggles with his lack of memories, and his possible role in the horrendous massacre.

In an attempt to regain his lost memories, Folman met with a psychiatrist to discuss memories. The doctor recounted an experiment where subjects were shown a ‘memory’ that proved to be false but the subjects identified them as real. This experiment reflects the film’s key about memories how even when they not be real, such as with Ari’s vision of being on the beach, they feel real to the person.  

During a confrontation in Beirut, Folman’s commander ‘dances’  with a machine gun aiming at the opposition. Behind him stands a poster of Bashir Gemayel who was president-elect of Leban before he was assassinated. As retaliation, a militia massacred thousands of innocent civilians. For Folman, the horrors of war were so horrendous he had to dance around within himself to find out more about his own role.

Chapter 5 follows how documentaries utilize argument. The chapter begins with the typical structure of documentaries: ordering events, assign importance, and propose answers to the problems. Folman began with meeting his friend and hearing about his nightmare as the inciting incident that lead Folman on this journey to regain his memories. This film is told mostly in flashback but takes place in different decades. From his time in the Lebanese War in the 80s to his life in the 2000s, Folman organizes his experiences to help construct the meaning and the argument. Rhetoric is defined as an aid to present an issue effectively and to make a case convincingly. Folman’s case in Waltz with Bashir is how his time in the war affected him and his fellow veterans who seemingly wiped their hands clean of the horrors. The selection of people to show – his friends, fellow veterans, a psychiatrist, and a television reporter who reported during the war offer different viewpoints that make the film well-rounded. What is missing from the film is the true victims, those who family members were killed and who saw the massacre firsthand. Although the final sequence broke with the film’s animation to show people reacting to the massacre and the harrowing images of corpses piled on top of one another, we need to hear their voices more. Folman had an internal struggle because he realized how close he was to the massacre and didn’t do anything to stop it which will hurt him but this can’t compare to the people who are still displaced and effected.


Jon – Waltz with Bashir

Key: Filmmaker Ari Folman reconstructs his damaged memories of serving in the Israeli military during the 1982 Lebanon War and reckons with the impact the conflict had on him and the people of Beirut.

In chapter 5 of Crafting Truth, Spence and Navarro write, “Documentaries…have an overall structure that helps determine the way the sociohistorical world is transposed to the screen.” Spence and Navarro go on to explore several documentaries that build that overall structure around an argument. Folman is making an argument as well, but Folman wants to make his argument with the greatest degree of nuance and complexity, and so he structures his film around not the argument itself, but a narrative.

Like all narratives, Walts with Bashir begins with an inciting incident: Folman, or rather his animated incarnation, meets with his friend Boaz Rein-Buskila, who also served in the Israeli military when they were young. Rein-Buskila relates to Folman a dream he’s been having for years about being chased by dogs, a dream he relates to an experience he had during his service in which he was ordered to shoot defenseless dogs to protect his comrades. That night Folman has his own dream, flashing back to his time in the military, apparently prompted by his meeting with Rein-Buskila.

These dreams are key narrative developments, and by choosing animation as his medium, Folman gives himself a way to recreate these dreams for the viewer, making them as much a part of reality as the staged interviews conducted in the film. We can see through dream sequence and flash-back the connections between Rein-Buskila’s dream and his memory, and then we see Folman’s dream but do not yet know how it relates to his memory, as he’s currently suffering from PTSD-related amnesia. This sets up the mystery that structures the rest of the film: what is it that Folman can’t remember and how does this lost memory inform his dream?

By structuring his film in this way, Folman arrives at the conclusion to his argument while accumulating deep and complicated nuances. His basic argument, like most documentaries about war, is that war is hell: it damages the lives of nearly everyone it touches, and its ends rarely or never justify the means. Folman could have sent this message by simply airing the few minutes of real footage following the massacre in Sabra and Shatila. However, by presenting the story primarily through the eyes of an Israeli soldier, we see not only the suffering of the Palestinian people, but also the suffering of the Israeli citizens, the ostensible aggressors, who were required by the government to carry out these atrocities in their name. The film puts the Lebanese people, the Israeli soldiers following orders, the Palestinians, and their respective leaders into context with each other, giving each of them a recognized voice, building a depiction of events in which no side is simply “right”.


due December 4

  1. Last 15 min. cut of Dramatic Portrait
  2. Proposal 2-3 pages with more data showing research, more specific treatment (timecode, location, action), edited synopsis/key
  3. Short film script
  4. Watch Waltz with Bashir and and post your thoughts, stills, “key” etc. Connect it to the Crafting Truth Chapter on Argument. 

due November 27

Edit your own version of the scene for 2 actors from Broadcast News.

Edit the next 15 min. bit of your Dramatic Portrait documentary.

 


Nostalgia for the Light – Sam

In Chile’s uninhabitable Atacama Desert, everyone is searching for the past in the present; astronomers, geologists and those affected by the devastating Pinochet dictatorship hunt the land and the sky for answers, all with the same clinical, cold scientific attitude.

In documentarian Patricio Guzman’s portrait of one of the driest deserts on Earth, painful memories of a country torn apart by a despot are treated like hard science. Guzman accomplishes this by breaking the film into three studies: That historical, would-be emotional one, a study of the geology of the region (unique because of its climate and lack of life) and of astronomy (which finds a hub in Atacama because of its clear skies). Nostalgia for a Light looks much more like a geology documentary than it does a documentary about the survivors of a national tragedy: There are very few human faces, very few emotional retellings or reenactments and really fairly little history. Instead, the film is mostly comprised of 3-5 second clip of B-roll after 3-5 second clip of B-roll: a rock here, a dune here, a human hand here:

Pointedly, the historical aspect of the documentary is the last of the three avenues explored; there is no mention of Pinochet for nearly half an hour. This effectively sets the viewer in the mode of science documentary, so this harsh topic then must be viewed through that lens. Even when humans appear in the film, it is rarely to share emotional stories and more often to deliver facts. They have been combing the desert for human remains with the same precision as the geologists combing for rocks. Here, the speaker presents small bits of human bone, but could just as easily be talking about geology:

Besides bringing a more technical perspective to this tragic story, aligning these three studies highlights something else that they have in common: They all look to study the past in the present. The victims search for their loved ones’ remains in the desert to answer unanswered questions, reconnect them with their loved ones and bring closure to their stories. Geologists look for old rocks that answer questions about the Earth’s history by examining these objects that were literally there for that history. Astronomers, when staring through a telescope, are in a sense staring back through time, since, because of the time it takes light to travel, the deep space they see is actually lightyears old. The stars, life in the desert and human remains might all be dead in the present, but they still exist as nostalgic mementos that answer questions about their history.

Guzman further connects these disciplines by superimposing stardust over his images. This first happens with the astrologers, as expected, where we see the stars in the sky and then come to associate them with the astrologers and their equipment. Later, though, when we see the first interview with the first survivor, that stardust shows up again over his office. He, like the astrologers, is searching what he can see in the present for evidence of and to reconnect with the past.


Nostalgia for the Light – Jon

Key: The Atacama Desert hold secrets (the bodies of those killed by Pinochet’s regime, the truth about mankind’s place in the universe as described by the powerful telescopes that observe there) but filmmaker Patricio Guzman asks what value is there is looking to the past for answers.

Nostalgia for the Light depicts a host of people looking back into the past, all for different reasons. Guzman begins the film looking at his childhood home in Chile and reflecting on his youthful love for astronomy. This central dichotomy, of the young Guzman looking out into the world for answers, perhaps dreaming of being older and wiser, while the older Guzman is nostalgic for his youth and how vast the world seemed at that age, immediately presents us with the film’s central question: why do we look to the past? What do we hope to learn?

The title, Nostalgia for the Light, is explained by the fact that the starlight we see has travelled such a long distance to reach our eyes on earth that we are always seeing it as it looked in the past, so all star-gazing is a sort of time-travel. Like the heavens, the desert sands represent a gateway to the past, a desolate and dry place devoid of human life that yet richly depicts the past by holding the remains of humans, animals, and carvings from native peoples. When he interviews a young engineer working with the amazing telescopes located in the Atacama, Victor Gonzalez, the man tells him that he was born in Germany and nows lives in Chile but feels like a native of neither, before eventually saying he does feel at home in Chile. In this small moment, we see the impossibility of leaving the past in the past: the past is constantly defining us, informing who we are, even in the present moment.

Later in the film, Guzman interviews people whose lives were destroyed by the Pinochet regime in Chile. One such person is Valentina Rodriguez, who speaks about the government threatening her grandparents until they gave up her parents to protect her. Rodriguez explains that she turned to astronomy to give her a perspective that helped dull the pain of her loss, and Guzman documents how she uses one kind of looking into the past to alleviate the heartache of another kind of memory. Guzman ends the documentary by stating, “those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moments. Those who have none don’t live anywhere.”


Jeniffer – Nostalgia for the Light

Patricio Guzman discovers the unlikely connection between astronomers uncovering the origins of life to a group of determined women on the search for their loved ones’ remains in the Atacama Desert.

The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth and has been a home to astronomers. Unfortunately, the desert also housed political prisoners during Pinochet’s dictatorship whos painful memories live on today. During the dictatorship, thousands of Chileans were forcibly vanished, some were thrown into the ocean while others were buried in the desert. Women who have lost loved ones still have hope to find their remains to finally find peace.

In this close up of a skull, the image almost looks as if it’s of rocks. This goes with the idea of the film about our connection with astronomy and the questions of how we came to be. Both astronomers and these women are looking to the past for their answers.

 

Responsibility in documentary lies with the filmmaker. Patricio Guzman began the film by discussing his childhood in Chile before everything changed with Pinochet’s regime. As the text states when the filmmaker inserts themselves in the documentary, they sometimes do this to question the hierarchies in place that have silenced them. One of the women who has been searching for a loved one stated that she is seen as an enemy by the state because she is defying them by not ignoring Chile’s violent past. We don’t get to see Guzman but we hear him occasionally and his presence is felt through his narration and interviewing the subject. 


due November 13

  1. Final Cut of Liquor store video for grading. Submit as a H.264 file.
  2. Watch and post about Nostalgia for the Light.
  3. Read chapters on Responsibility from Crafting Truth and Chapters on Advanced Production (Part 7B) from Directing Documentaries.

Sam – The Act of Killing

Anwar Congo, Indonesian militant murderer of 1000 communists in the 1960s and aging man-child, reimagines his war crimes as western, mob and musical films with his “movie theater gangster” buddies and the help of documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer, only to realize that his badass killer persona, like the movies, are just flimsy acts of pretend.

Throughout The Act of Killing, Congo and buddies are shockingly eager to discuss, laugh about and reproduce terrifying acts of murder. They get laughing children involved, they dress in drag, they nonchalantly pretend to behead each other as they recreate the government-sanctioned murderers of Indonesian communists. And they do it because, as Oppenheimer makes apparent by the end of the film, this is the only way they can deal with their actions. Congo frequently tells us directly that he is haunted by his past. And of course he is! He, as he says himself, killed people who did not want to die. Yet, rather than apologize to the families or see a therapist, he deals with as a traumatized child would, by ducking and dodging from the real emotion of it until it is absolutely unavoidable.

Here, he dresses his friend up in a big, over-the-top, goofy costume to play the ghosts that haunt him. When asked to make a film version of the events, he doesn’t strive for accuracy, he goes for a big laugh, the immature but easy way to deal with the traumatic event.

Again, here, he casually shows Oppenheimer how he killed communists on the roof, wearing garish colors and laughing with his friend. He is seemingly incapable of taking this unthinkably serious situation seriously.

Meanwhile, those around Congo deal with the guilt of their acts in different ways. One, says that it was all justified, another claims that it didn’t really happen at all or if it did he certainly didn’t know about it, another blames America, another says that it did happen and it was wrong. All the gangsters, decades removed from the murders, cope in their own ways, showing that even massive, historical actions are never without individual psychological consequences.

Likewise, Congo and many of his buddies deal with and dealt with the murders at the time by putting on an act of pretend “gangster” inspired by American movies. The men, who initially made money scalping tickets to movies and obsessively watched Western and mob movies, took inspiration from those movies in the way they presented themselves, the way the acted during these horrific moments in their past and even the specific ways in which they committed murder. The suggestion is that nobody is ever really just a tough killer, it’s always an act at some level and here, by remaking the acts as genre films, Congo and friends show that that’s all it ever was for them: An act. But an act with real consequences never the less. And, by escaping into the role of movie gangster, they were able to disappear into their acts and, for Congo, not truly process guilt. As killers, TV hosts and politicians alike repeat throughout the film, the Indonesian word for “gangster” means “free man.” This is repeated over and over to suggest, on a surface level, that the killings brought freedom to the country, but, on a deeper level, that the gangster persona granted the killers the freedom to do what they thought needed to be done without being overwhelmed by guilt. Here, Congo, dressed like a cartoon cowboy, tells a TV audience:

In the chapter on Authority, Spence and Navarro discuss the technique of letting a documentary’s subject act as co-author. By letting Congo and friends tell the story in their own way, Oppenheimer reveals just how deeply childlike they are about the murders. He could have let the gangsters simply talk about the murders and shown his own reenactments or historical footage, but instead, the audience becomes privy to how Congo wants to tell the story, and that is the most powerful aspect of the film. By showing the goofy ghost costume and the big musical number, we see that avoidance is the only way someone can deal with the guilt of committing such a heinous act.

All of Congo’s avoidance-as-coping-technique finally comes crashing down at the end of the film when Oppenheimer breaks his silence to confront him. His presence as filmmaker has been made obvious throughout the film, but at the final moments of the film, he inserts himself to a new degree; Congo watches footage where he plays a victim and wonders if the real victims felt how he did and Oppenheimer points out the obvious, that no, the real victims felt much worse because they were actually going to die. The guilt finally truly hits home for Congo as he puts himself in the shoes of the victim as he never has before, prompted by the filmmaker. As he retches atop the roof where he previously joked about the murders, he feels suddenly, seemingly for the first time, decades of repressed guilt, the falseness of the big act finally revealed.