Memory takes us where we want to go—Waltz with Bashir


These days, a “humanist” quest is what it takes, in most cases, to collect awards in various international film festivals. I gather that is because the audience is so much in need of proofs that show they are after all human beings despite the atrocities committed.

We know that cinema has a power that can alter, construct meaning, a power that was much envied by Joseph Goebbels when he saw Potemkin. A less subtle way of doing this is called identification.

Waltz with Bashir is such a case.

In wars people get killed; in wars people suffer. So if we say all right, both sides suffer, does that mean they are even? Is having nightmares as bad as being killed?

Some people want to say yes, and that it is even worse.

The formula I see is this: in order to elicit the sympathy you need for your causes, you show your protagonists under fear, under anguish, pain and last but not least, under confusion and ignorance. In other words, they were scared; they didn’t know anything; they didn’t do it.

Of course they didn’t. The Pharisees/ Phalangists did it.

And what is the purpose of this journey? To sleep better.

To settle your conscience, to be pardoned.

And that is easy. Because the soldiers are human beings. They all have names, faces. Two decades later, they all become harmless and hardworking[1] middle aged fellows. They become respectable family heads.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, are anonymous; They live anonymously; they die anonymously.

How could you sympathize a creature that has no name, that you don’t feel for?

“Sympathy” is by definition “feel the same thing”.

The end of the film does present a brief footage of Palestinian women screaming.

What they said is not subtitled.

The version I watch has Chinese subtitle and it says “the Arabs did it.”

How ridiculous! Was this translator just ignorant or has he another nationality?

I checked it online and according to another review (

She shouts "my son, my son" in Arabic. She repeats again and again in Arabic "take photos, take photos," "where are the Arabs, where are the Arabs."

Now people might object that I don’t know anything about the Palestine/Israel conflict. That is true. I don’t.

Being a Chinese, I don’t know anything about the massacre in Nanjing either.

When I check the estimated number of victims in Sabra and Shatila —it says 2000—I feel myself noticeably relieved.

If 300000 died in Nanjing doesn’t mean anything, how can you make a big fuss on 2000?

I can perfectly imagine a Japanese film telling the story of a veteran (respectable family head, no doubt) trying to rediscover what he did in 1937—and he just “lit the flares.”

How convenient! If only the Nazis and the Japanese could find a way not to do the dirty work by themselves!

There are other places where the film reminds me of a possible Japanese remake. For example, in Waltz the Israeli soldiers report that “they're shooting at us from all directions,” “we are attacked, we retaliate.”

A Japanese soldier actually said, we did what we did in Nanjing because they resisted.

Resisted what? As the Japanese never wants to say they invaded China—they entered China; or these hapless fellows just found themselves there in media res—in the film there is a clear avoidance of saying that Israel invaded Lebanon.

I am aware of the fact that by saying all this I become in some ways a “nationalist”. These days being a nationalist means being narrow, being uneducated—two exceptions can be made: one for Jewish people, one for American, they are good—I don’t want to be like that. And I knew too well from my thirty years in the country that Chinese are no saint. I wish I could afford being a humanist.

[1] One episode tells us the protagonist’s visit to his friend in Holland. This guy made his fortune (he is now a ten-acres landowner) after three years of selling falafel, which happens to be “both healthy and middle eastern”.



Unknown said...

Hello, Dong. While I am back in creative mode (after a long, long blue moon (even my 10 months in Montreal from 2007 - 2008 didn't really count as creative spark - more of a failure of will and many other things on my part), I want you to participate in a little critical exchange with me concerning Yibai Zhang's 2008 film, Mi guo (English title: Lost Indulgence).
I will try to get a review onto my blog Sunday or Monday night, and you give your own take.
If you would like, maybe the following week, you could choose a film that you write about first-off, then I can do a response as before. Curious to see how this goes. That is if you have time and are so inclined.
Whatever the case. I plan on writing my review of Zhang's film, in the next day or two!

Dong Liang said...

In the past I have seen 2 or 3 films by this director and honestly I
am very unimpressed. Therefore I do not look forward to his new works.
Besides I seldom do film review;
Reason one, I am very sarcastic in Chinese but not
enough in English.
Reason two, I write about a film when I hate it, and that is bad karma for me.
Three, if I did it a few times in the past it was to put the film in a broader
theoretical context.
This said, if you happen to write on a film that I have seen, I will
be glad to respond.
This quarter is extremely busy so I am afraid I have to keep the blog
activity in minimum.

I hope everything else is fine with you

Popular Posts

Blog Archive