Sometimes there are moments where the inescapable reality of being a member of the human race fills the soul with unbelievable disgust.
Sure, everyone makes mistakes, does hurtful things immediately regretted and utters sarcastic, vindictive words that can be just as murderous as bullets, bombs or knives.
As bad as one person can be, when a collective chooses or is ordered to behave in a heinous, prescribed way, the resulting destruction of property, level of humiliation and loss of life belies the universal shared wish to move through our natural time on the planet with dignity, health and occasional moments of joy. Memories are made of this.
Ari Folman’s study of repressed/selective memory two decades after possibly witnessing unspeakable atrocities which took place in Sabra and Shatila—Beirut’s infamous refugee camps—is a spectacular pillory of might is right, take no prisoners and the joy of inertia. For once the report has been made or the far-away commander apprised of the systemic slaughter of already-displaced-persons, the unbearable burden of singular guilt can be assuaged by those in the field who are forced to stand idly by as the bodies—literally mowed down like fish in a barrel—pile up.
The use of animation to tell Folman’s tale—spurred to action by a terrifying, brilliantly rendered nightmare of being hunted down by 26 wild dogs: crazed, frenzied beasts, themselves sparing far easier targets as they roar through crowded suburban streets only to circle their prey’s window—is the absolute ideal medium for bringing his scariest fears to light.
And so a quest is born.
Following friendly and professional advice, the trek to truth and—perhaps—closure begins: Was I there? Did I participate? Did my fellow soldiers? Could/should we have done anything differently—such as not killing so many dogs?
The business of war be it tank patrols, sniper routing, taking out RPG (rocket propelled grenades) personnel—one launched by a mere boy in the woods—and the especial loneliness of being separated from your men, surviving—incongruously swimming back to base only to feel unbelievable guilt—is flashed, burned and exploded onto the screen in a visual tour de force that must frighten the viewers more than the archival newsreels.
Well, not quite.
When Folman suddenly and unexpectedly cuts to the actual footage of a mother/grandmother surveying the wreckage and carnage after narrowly missing execution and being ordered back into the bloody death camp, wailing uncontrollably, the awful truth of her heartfelt screams are unforgettably etched. Thank goodness we have the ability to erase such unspeakable pain and suffering from our memory.
And, after all, wasn’t the rest of it just a cartoon?
Filmmaking seldom gets better than this. JWR