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Waltz with Bashir : Euro-Funding Backs Israeli ‘Anti-War’ Film

By accusing Jews of complicity in “Nazi-like” crimes, Ari Folman’s film releases Germans from the heavy burden of their past.

by
John Rosenthal

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February 19, 2009 - 12:16 am
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For the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which has nominated it for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film, the animated feature Waltz with Bashir is an “Israeli” film. As discussed in part one of this article, the film paints a grim portrait of Israeli forces during the 1982 Lebanon War and even accuses them of complicity in “genocide,” drawing unseemly parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany. To this extent, the “Israeli” label is undoubtedly crucial to the effect that the film has on its audience. If Israelis say so themselves, after all, it must be true. …

But is Waltz with Bashir an Israeli film? Well, director Ari Folman is Israeli. Folman is also the star of the film and his ostensible “reconstruction” of his personal experience in Lebanon provides the storyline. But closer inspection of the film’s financing reveals that Waltz for Bashir was in fact largely produced with European money — and not just European money, moreover, but European public money.

As Folman acknowledges in an interview with the publication France-Amérique, the film’s “most important source of financing” and “principal sponsor” was the Franco-German “cultural” channel ARTE. ARTE is a public television channel that is jointly funded by the French and German governments. In addition to broadcasting in the two sponsor countries, ARTE also provides programming to other European television channels and co-produces films. A French subdivision of ARTE, ARTE France Cinéma, co-produced Waltz with Bashir.

It is hardly surprising that ARTE would have been receptive to Folman’s project. ARTE, both in its television programming and its film productions, has been beating the drum about the Middle East conflict for years now and its basic “orientation” in the matter has never been hard to find. For example, ARTE also co-produced Hany Abu-Assad’s 2005 ode to a Palestinian suicide bomber Paradise Now. The film depicts the bomber as a kind of Christ-like figure: a shot of the bomber dining with friends the night before the attack is clearly modeled on Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper of Christ.”

Nor are Israeli/Nazi comparisons anything new to ARTE. In 2003, ARTE broadcast a four and a half hour documentary titled Route 181 on the 1947 UN partition line between Israel and a prospective Arab state. The film employed visual and thematic allusions to Claude Lanzmann’s classic documentary Shoah, in order to suggest a parallel between the displacement suffered by Palestinian Arabs as a result of the creation of Israel and the fate suffered by European Jews under the Third Reich. The film juxtaposes an interview with a Palestinian Arab barber about the “Naqba,” or “disaster,” and a shot of train tracks. One of the most memorable moments in Lanzmann’s Shoah occurs during an interview with the barber Abraham Bomba: a Holocaust survivor who begins to cry as he talks. Shoah famously features images of train tracks. Those train tracks led to Auschwitz. Route 181 was co-produced by ARTE France Cinéma and WDR, one of the public television broadcasters making up the German pole of ARTE.

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