Waltz with Bashir (2008) dir: Ari Folman

A kind of illustrated documentary. And it’s getting loads of plaudits (which it deserves) so I’ll be brief.

The director Ari Folman, who had been in the Israeli army in the early 80s asks: “What is it that I can’t remember when I was posted to the Lebanon? What did I do there?  What did I see?  Why do I remember… nothing?”

So he begins his personal journey, interviewing friends and comrades who were there, during this Lebanon War, trying to piece it all together from memories, dreams and hallucinations. Searching for the truth.

Although the animation itself is not slick in its movement compared to, say a Pixar movie, it is beautiful and captivating, and has a dreamlike quality. The evocative imagery draws you into a world that would be distressing to watch if you were to see it for real.

So hats off to David Polonsky who did 80% of the illustrations and Yoni Goodman, the animation director (and their respective teams). Max Richter’s electronic score works a treat too.

I would pretty much say that it is essential viewing. A vivid and moving piece of work.

Having seen the film, I had to go google chunks of it to know more about this recent world history.

If films could change the world….

Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) dir: Uli Edel

I vaguely knew of the name ‘Baader Meinhof’ as a kid, and sort of (incorrectly) thought of it as a German version of the IRA. This film goes into incredible detail on the origins of the terrorist group Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) in the late 1960s, founded by a number of young German men and woman, two of whom were ‘Andreas Baader’ and a well known journalist, ‘Ulrike Meinhof’. The film indicates, that initially, the RAF were thought to have the support of 1 in 4 Germans, 7 million people.

Fascinating and absorbing, the film documents the story of the RAF (or the Baader Meinhof Group as they were referred to in the press) and their activities through to the late 1970s – with the backdrop of unresolved conflict in the Middle East (between Palestinians and Israelis) and the US invasion of Vietnam.  Watching the film, it was horrifying at how little some things have changed in the world.

Yet some things seemed so different. There is a striking scene where the RAF have gone to a terrorist training camp in the Middle East. Not only does the group refuse to be segregated into men and women, as is the Islamic custom, but the women sunbathe naked at the camp – in front of the Arab men who are also training there. It’s easy to forget that the politics of this period (of our parents and grandparents) was also about female sexual emancipation.

I notice that some critics have described it as an action movie. It’s not. It is graphically violent, but that’s because the historical events it covers were violent. Death and murder from a hail of bullets is not some pretty glorified slow-mo here.

The story is told in a bleak and dispassionate manner and on a large scale, (there are several impressive sequences), and I found it to be utterly compelling with uniformly superb performances from all the cast.

Turn the river (2008) dir: Chris Eigeman

I saw this at a small screening a few months back. Didn’t know anything about it but the title sounded interesting. I think the film may have had a small release in the USA, I haven’t seen it released anywhere else yet. I can’t understand why, as Famke Jannsen is terrific in this story about a pool hustling Mum who had to abandon her son at birth but then strikes up a secret relationship with him when he’s 11.

Written and directed without any frills by Chris Eigeman (the teacher in ‘Malcolm in the Middle’) the story is gripping, well told and quite moving.

It’s also got Rip Torn in it, who I love anyway – I can’t remember the last time I saw him in a non-comedic role. He’s great here as well.

Maybe it’s out on DVD somewhere. I guess it just shows how hard it is for good indie movies to be seen – even if they’ve got a biggish star in them.

Blindness (2008) dir: Fernando Meirelles

It’s a shame that in the USA no one went to see this film.  Unlike ‘I Am Legend’ which was a glossy action orientated apocalyptic film (with a big star) –  ‘Blindness’ is just plain dark, grim and gritty.  A realistic portrait of how quickly humanity can fall, and the fragility of our civilization.

In a city where everyone else is going blind (a bright milky white blindness),  Julianne Moore plays one of the few who for some reason remains unaffected. When her newly blinded husband is carted off to an isolated ‘prison’, she goes with him. As the building begins to overflow with more and more quarantined, frightened and newly blinded people – it isn’t long before they begin fighting amongst themselves, wallowing around in shit and basically living in total despair.

Whilst those afflicted with this new blindness are in some ways sheltered from the full horror of their surroundings, Julianne Moore’s character can see it all.  The decay, the bodies and the filth.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how faithful the film is to it, but the way many of the characters treat each other is all too believable.  There are also some impressive (and I’m guessing) non CGI created city sequences where the pockets of humanity wander hopelessly around deserted streets and smashed up cars looking for food.

So pretty bleak, but a fascinating watch with some very interesting camerawork and terrific performances from all the cast.

The ending? Hmmm.

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