"Waltz With Bashir" "FROST/NIXON"


“Waltz With Bashir” has won several awards and an Ophir, Israel’s equivalent of an Oscar, was awareded a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and has been nominated for this year’s Academy Award also for Best Foreign Language Film.

Though the events illustrated in Israeli director and filmmaker Ari Folman’s extraordinary, animated documentary film, “Waltz With Bashir,” occurred in 1982, in Lebanon, they are timely, considering Israel’s recent unleashing of its US backed war machine on Palestinians in Gaza, today. Folman made his film in collaboration with art director David Polansky, and director of animation, Yori Goodman. Polansky and Goodman animate Folman’s narrative mostly in subdued tones, but also in saturated, surreal colors, and with the oblique, disorienting angles of a German expressionist film.
Some scenes could’ve been taken directly from recent debacles that made it to television screens or in documentary films on Iraq and Afghanistan. If anything, “Waltz With Bashir,” illustrates the truism of the futility of war, that war never changes anything. War destroys property, kills millions of people, and wounds as many if not more, both physically and mentally.
The film opens with a frightening, almost 3-D scene of the animated character of Folman being chased by exactly twenty-six, slathering, yellow-eyed, Doberman Pinchers. This is a recurring nightmare he has suffered for decades. Folman had been a soldier in the Israeli Army in 1982 when, under General Ariel Sharon, the Israeli army, IDF, attacked the Palestinians in Lebanon. He claims he doesn’t remember being in Beirut during the massacres of civilians in the Palestinian refugee camps of Shabra and Shatila, carried out by a Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia to avenge the assassination of their Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel. He decides to talk to former soldiers, who either knew about the slaughter or remembered being there with him. He also consults with psychiatrists about retrieving twenty-year-old repressed memories.
The former soldiers Ari interviews (shown in animation) are middle-age, and live comfortable lives as wine-makers, educators, doctors, or journalists. In the making of the film, all but two spoke in their own voices. With their help, Folman begins to remembers firing flares that illuminated the night sky, providing the Phalangists enough light to execute their night-long slaughter. His memories reveal the horrors of war and the weight of his guilt. He and the other soldiers are bothered by the stupidity of all that evil. Ari wonders how he could’ve allowed himself to be a part of it. Some of his memories come to him as breathtakingly beautiful hallucinations: Under palm trees on a beach, playing volleyball, listening to rock music, drinking, smoking weed - - scenes reminiscent of film clips of American soldiers partying in Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad palace. One of Ari’s hallucination shows him lying prone on the stomach of a nude giantess backstroking through a calm sea, as flames from bombed ships light up the sky. Another is of a tropical paradise with helicopters roaring overhead that could’ve been an animation of the surfing scene in Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” I kept waiting for Duvall’s famous napalm line.

Some scenes are like a swift kick in the gut. The raw recruits have been ordered to “shoot anything that moves.” They land on a beach, Normandy-style, and flop down in the sand, automatic rifles ready. These are baby-face boys, not much older than nineteen; eyes wide with the fear of the unexpected. .A broken down Mercedes sedan rattles up to the beach. They’ve been told that Palestinian terrorists deliver bombs in cars. Panicked, the boys start shooting. The car jumps and bounces with each strike, as the driver tries to pull away. The car tattles, groans and settles like a dying beast. Then all is quiet. The soldiers approach gingerly, and see unrecognizable bloody ribbons of flesh that were once human beings. As has been shown in film clips of US soldiers in Iraq, “Waltz” also includes scenes of Israeli soldiers walking down the streets of Beirut randomly shooting at everything, pock-marking buildings, reducing vehicles to bullet ridden hulks, as civilians scatter in all directions, and bodies are left on the street.
There was a question at the time as to whether Ariel Sharon knew of the massacre. Sharon had spent months planning the war. He had met secretly with Lebanese Christian Phalangist allies whom he planned to help install as Lebanon's government once the PLO was out of Beirut. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) asked Phalangist militiamen to enter refugee camps, Shabra and Shatila. The militia subsequently massacred civilians inside. It was argued that the Israelis should have known that this could occur, considering Gemayel’s assassination only two days before, and taking into account the on-going animosity between the Palestinians and the Phalangists. Ariel Sharon’s culpability is illustrated in the film in a scene showing an Israeli military officer calling “Arik” (Sharon’s nickname) at his ranch, to ask him if he knew of the massacre. He answers, laconically, in the positive.

After the war, the Israeli government had set up the Kahan Commission to investigate. It subsequently found Israel responsible, but only indirectly. The Commission stated that Israeli commanders should have been aware of the possibility of a revenge attack. They also found Sharon personally responsible for not only "ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge," but also for "not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed." It recommended his resignation as head of the Defense Ministry. After first resisting, Sharon finally stepped down.

Comments on the film from some Arab blogs are positive. However, one blogger wondered why Arabs couldn’t make something similar. Another felt that Folman's film gives no answers In an interview, Folman told the JTA (The Global News Service of the Jewish People) he always intended to make “Waltz with Bashir” as an animated film.
“When you look at everything that there is in this film -- lost memory, memories of war, which are probably the most surreal things on earth, dreams, subconscious, drugs, hallucination - - it was the only way to combine one fluid storyline,” he said. “If it was a classic documentary, it would have shown middle-aged men telling their war experiences and it would have to be covered with footage that you could never find and wouldn’t come close to resembling what they went through. It would be a boring film. And if you made a big action movie with the budget of an Israeli movie, that would just be sad.” Which may explain why US films on Iraq have failed at the box office.

In another view, Natalie Rothschild wrote on the Website JEWCY, in December 2008, that Folman’s film, though beautifully rendered and artfully scripted, is a big narcissistic mea culpa, a “spectre that haunts post-Zionist Israeli society.” She calls the film, “Post-Zionist Stress Disorder.” She stated that though Folman believes his film is apolitical, it “conveys a disturbingly skewed account” of the war. Folman, she says, feels the IDF soldiers were ”victims of circumstance,” and that the film “is not only incredibly self-obsessed, it is also a striking evasion of responsibility.” She also quotes Folman on the atrocity as believing that the Christian Phalangist militiamen were fully responsible and that the Israeli soldiers had nothing to do with it. Rothschild says that yes, as a 19 year old conscript, he could say he was following orders, but now, as an adult, he “could recognize that several parties hold responsibility for what happened

The final scene of “Waltz”” shows Folman standing before the shrieking, grief-stricken Palestinian women, leaving the camps, and we see that he finally recognizes his part in the massacre. The horror is made real when the film segues from animation to archival footage of the devastated survivors of the camps. As the camera moves over the rubble, one is sickened by the corpses of brutally slaughtered men, women, and children. Perhaps Folman’s film attests to his and the perpetrators guilt, however, it may offer atonement, as well.”

This review will appear also in an adaptated form in the February issue of Socialist Action News.
“Froat/Nixon,” directed by Ron Howard; starring Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, and Kevin Bacon.
By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith
"Frost/Nixon" is one of several films up for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Film. Its rivals include, "Milk," "Slumdog Millionaire," and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Frank Langella has been nominated for Best Actor.

“Tricky Dick” is too mild an epithet to describe ex president, Richard Millhouse Nixon. In director Ron Howard’s film, “Frost/Nixon,” he and screenwriter Peter Morgan present a dishonest recreation of the 1977 series of taped interviews with ex-President Nixon, a demoralized former political heavyweight. The interviews were conducted by David Frost, who was a lightweight British television talk and variety show host. Michael Sheen (Tony Blair in “The Queen), and Frank Langella reprise their legit theatre roles in the film, which Morgan adapted from his eponymous play. At this time in his political career, Nixon was reduced to lecturing at trade conventions for a few thousand a pop. The real-life historic interviews were subsequently televised in three segments.
Howard’s film (and Morgan’s play) takes place during one of the most dynamic eras in American history where a constitutional crisis was explained away as simply a president and his chief advisors’ illegal moves. So where’s the beef? The question is: How far can a film or play go to dramatize a tumultuous historical period? In other words, based on a raft of accessible evidence, the film is a lie. Poetic license in this case was taken too far. Where the film focuses on the Watergate cover up, Nixon’s egregious crimes against America were many. Besides trying to get the goods on the Democratic Party by breaking in to its headquarters, Nixon not only severely undermined the constitution, but also executed the break in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding’s, office. Ellsberg had leaked the Pentagon Papers containing detailed plotting for not only the Vietnam war’s escalation, but the true number of US troops sent there. Nixon was more concerned about this discovery than that of Watergate. The power of Howard’s film, however, makes what appears boring and dull on the actual tapes (now on disc) dramatic. In the film, during the final taping, a close up of Nixon’s face reveals him as a haggard, beaten down man. Langella, though not resembling Nixon, does a superb rendering of the essence of the man, as does Sheen with his characterization of Frost.
In his final term, facing impeachment over the Watergate cover-up, Nixon became the first president in history forced to resign from office, in 1974. He announced his resignation on television with the media present, and chief aide Jack Brennan (played by Kevin Bacon) in full uniform at his side. Director Howard recreates this event, with a shot of Sheen as Frost, who had been hosting his popular TV shows in both Australia and London, watching the event on television. You can practically see the light go off in his brain.
Shortly after he resigned, Nixon suffered an attack of phlebitis and had to be rushed to the hospital where, during his recovery, he received a full pardon for any “wrongdoings” from then President Gerald Ford. Nixon retired to his Casa Pacifica (ironic name) home in San Clemente.
Frost and his producer, John Birt (Matthew MacFedyan) arrange a deal with Hollywood agent Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones, [Karl Rove in “W”]). Frost offers Nixon a half million dollars. Nixon wants more, and gets it. Nixon, a brooding, defeated man, three years after his resignation, sees the series as a way to restore his reputation and get back into the limelight. Another omission in the film is the fact that Nixon would receive twenty percent. of the profits when networks buy the tapes. Basically, the opponents saw the dollar signs of a profitable business deal. Records show that Nixon's efforts to redeem himself and pay his legal bills was a carefully planned endeavor called "The Wizard."
As for the format of the tapings, all, including Jack Brennan, agree to a “no holds barred” grilling. Frost says, “It’ll be done in four parts: Watergate, domestic policy, Vietnam, and Nixon the Man.” “As opposed to what?” Nixon snaps back, “Nixon the Horse?” The film shows Nixon as sarcastic and funny, when in real life he was a humorless, bigoted monster.
Besides saving his reputation, Nixon appears to care about the money angle. Still, Frost is stymied as no big corporate network wants his show. He goes independent and has to raise funds. He hires a team of investigative journalists like the liberal columnist Jim Reston, Jr. (Sam Rockwell). Reston thinks Frost won’t be hard enough on Nixon. He wants Nixon convicted for his authorization of the Watergate break-ins. Along with questions on wiretapping, Reston tells Frost to ask him: “How do you feel as a Quaker in annihilating an entire people?’ Of course, this never happens.
Ron Howard seamlessly intercuts archival video and film clips into his movie, including shots of the horrific, devastating “secret” bombings of Cambodia, the dead and desiccated bodies of civilians, burned and severely wounded children, and vast areas of forest, homes and buildings aflame. The tendency is to turn away. Some clips hadn’t been televised, although many of similar content were, such as shots of wounded, dead, and dying American soldiers. The latter shocked Americans into stepping up to launch hundreds of country-wide protests, involving hundreds of thousands of people, to end the protracted war.
During the initial interviews, Nixon appears relaxed. He is sly, bantering with Frost. The first three meetings do not go well for Frost. He opens with, “Why didn’t you burn the tapes? [Where he plans the break in with his cronies]” Nixon blithely runs on with an evasive convoluted answer; he is cheered by the omnipresent media when he leaves the Smith House where the interviews take place. Frost has funding problems and begins to understand that he is up against a major operator. He is into his backers for several thousand dollars. His London agent calls to tell him he’s losing his shows in Australia and London. Frost is worried that the tapes will never “see the light of day,” and realizes that he took a huge gamble. Before the final interview starts taping, Nixon throws him a curve by asking Frost if he did any “fornicating” last night. Frost reacts slightly, then when taping starts, he lays into Nixon about Vietnam and Cambodia, and shows Nixon film clips of the bombings. Nixon looks uncomfortable. Sweat breaks out on his upper lip, which up to now, he had controlled with the subtle use of a handkerchief. Later, at a Hugh Hefner party, Nixon plays the piano. Frost is talking to Pat Nixon, played by Patty McCormack as a tranquilized, well-appointed zombie, a put-upon spouse. About the interviews, she says, ’I’m glad it’s all going as planned.” The camera moves to a very depressed looking Nixon.
For his play, Morgan had invented a scene, included in the film, where, the night before the last taping, Nixon, with a drink in his hand, makes a very late night phone call to Frost. He launches into a long psychologically revealing rant, and challenges Frost to bring him down. He makes a confession that has Frost later sending Reston to research. Frost then spends the rest of the night listening to all of the Nixon tapes and making notes. Yet, as the opponents chat before the last taping, Nixon claims to have no memory of making the call
During the interview, Frost pins Nixon about his (Nixon’s) role in the obstruction of justice on the Watergate trials, accusing Nixon of colluding with Charles Colson, a Nixon crony. Frost reads from the transcript of his and Colson’s talk. Although, in reality, the tape was unknown, therefore unimportant, because a prosecutor had stated in an interview that they had more incriminating evidence against Nixon. Nixon’s famous rejoinder was, “When the President does it, it’s not illegal.” Frost then needles him to admit that he was involved in the cover-up. Nixon appears undone. Jack Brennan breaks into the room and demands the taping stopped. Everyone’s in a turmoil (Records show that Frost had it stopped because of a misread cue.) After a while, the interview is resumed and Nixon admits he let down the American people. “I made mistakes not worthy of a President.”
Howard’s film conflates the truth of what actually happened during the last interview. Frost appears to have “nailed” Nixon into confessing. He says, he “was involved in a ‘cover--up,’ as you call it.” However, evidence proves that what he really said was: “You’re wanting me to say that I participated in an illegal cover-up. No!” Screenwriter Morgan has him say, “I let them down. I let down the country. I let down the government.” As he leaves the Smith House, he appears to have aged. What felled him, Nixon says, was part media, part politics. Frost’s interviews get picked up. They are a sensation due to the power of the TV close up.
The final scene is of Frost visiting Nixon at Casa Pacifica. Nixon still does not recall the phone conversation: “What did we talk about?”he asks. “Cheeseburgers,” Frost replies..
Ron Howard and Peter Morgan obviously wanted to create a major film about an important time in American politics - - not a documentary - - that was both entertaining and would guarantee a substantial profit. So they took liberties with the truth to give us a distorted, dishonest film about a dangerous, paranoid, deluded President, who admitted only to “mistakes.” What is shameful is that roughly seventy percent of the population is too young to know about the Nixon presidency and his egregious, blatant disregard for human lives and the country.