Israeli cinema has grown in stature on the international stage in recent years. Israeli-made films received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Over winter break, I watched two of these films, which both dealt with a challenging subject: war.
If you are looking for an action-packed war movie, Waltz with Bashir is not for you. Far from the violence and gore characteristic of many such movies, it is less about combat and more about psychology. It follows the story of Ari Folman, who curiously forgets about his experiences in the 1982 Lebanon War. In attempting to recover his lost memories, he talks to old friends and other professionals. As a result, the movie strikes a creative balance between a defined plot line and a mockumentary. Interestingly, many “real people” (playing themselves) are incorporated into the story, including Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran Israeli journalist. If you are willing to sit through the slow pace and unorthodox animation style, you will be rewarded with a brilliant take on the psychological trauma that war inevitably creates.
For a more traditional, yet no less emotive, war movie, check out Beaufort. Set at Beaufort Castle in southern Lebanon, it chronicles the final days of an IDF unit before troops withdraw. Tangible and poignant, the film also has striking cinematography. And while its subject matter is heavy to say the least, director Joseph Cedar weaves in a fair amount of humor. But the few moments of smiles are heavily outnumbered by the heart-wrenching scenes, most notably the unit’s rendition of “Lekha Dodi” featuring a solo by a soldier named Shpitz. Overall, a fantastic movie, worthy of recognition.