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Israel in treatment
on 12 May 2009
Hagai Levi, creator of the Israeli TV show 'Be'Tipul' - which became in turn the inspiration for the latest HBO phenomenon, 'In Treatment', currently championed in the UK by The Guardian - said of Israel that "one of our problems as a nation is that in our mind we are still survivors, and sometimes we think that we can do awful things to others because we are survivors." Both 'Be'Tipul' and it US counterpart revolve around the psycho analyst's chair, each episode a single patient's session. Psychoanalysis - both individual and that pertaining to Israeli national identity - also pervades Ari Folman's 'Waltz With Bashir'. The film is a cathartic act of self-therapy, conducted on and by the director himself, with the help of former fellow soldiers: unpeeling an onion of buried memories revolving around his participation in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. His need to recover and clarify the past is provoked by a deeply unsettling, repetitive dream, which suggests a spectre of guilt regarding the events that lead to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres, a dark chapter in modern Israel's short but troubled history - a history dictated perhaps by a national psychology of survival.
'Waltz With Bashir' is unusual because parts of the film derive from genuine documentary footage in which Folman meets again and interviews his erstwhile Israeli army colleagues in search of a forgotten past. The interviews, like Folman's abstract, fallible memories and dreams, have been richly transformed into animation in a manner that recalls Richard Linklater's visually-striking but emotionally vacant 'A Scanner Darkly'. The noirish visuals are sumptuous to watch, sometimes almost distractingly so, especially during the interview sections when the sound is flatter, unadorned by dramatic devices such as music. Otherwise the line between fact and fiction, between the remembered past and documented present, is blurred by the consistently arresting animated imagery; up to a final, horrifying awakening. This climax, without playing politics, imposes the ultimate question about modern Israel: can the nation continue to live with its nightmares in the all-consuming war for survival? With all the importance attached to remembering Jewish plight (particularly The Holocaust), can they really choose to forget the "awful things" done in the name of Israeli survival? A powerful, thought-provoking, beautiful film.