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March 02, 2009


Here are less complimentary reactions to the film--

Angry Arab website

Gideon Levy is another reviewer who didn't like it.

Spoilers in the next paragraph--

There's a fair bit of ranting involved in the Angry Arab piece which may or may not be justified--I can't say in some cases, because I don't much about Lebanese and Palestinian politics. But I sympathize with part of what he says when he gets around to discussing the film. It is (until the end) entirely about the suffering of the young Israeli soldiers and furthermore, the fact that the majority of the civilian dead were killed by Israeli bombs and shells and not by their Phalangist allies isn't mentioned. The bombing of Beirut by the Israelis is shown in an almost comic way, so I don't think one gets a sense of the thousands of people who died because of it. Until the massacre, there's as much or more time given to the suffering of Lebanese animals as there is to Lebanese civilians, and while I like animals and was moved by this, you can certainly see why some might be offended by this choice of topic.

I still thought the film was good, but as you say it's about how some Israeli soldiers, very young at the time, experienced the war. Anyone expecting it to be a fair summary of the war, showing the suffering of Lebanese civilians or about who really did most of the killing, or why the war happened, is going to be disappointed.

I might recommend it to a Christian Zionist friend of mine, somebody who is under the spell of Brigitte Gabriel, a Maronite Christian and a popular Islamophobe for people who go in for that sort of thing--the scenes with the Phalangists wearing their crosses as they commit mass murder ought to make him realize the Lebanese civil war can't be summarized as "Christians and Israelis good, Muslims bad".

OT, but is this the musical reference here?

No Russell. Not unless the creators of the movie had that in mind.

Gideon Levy:

"Even way back, after the huge protest against the massacre perpetrated in those camps, there was always the declaration that, despite everything - including the green light given to our lackey, the Phalange, to execute the slaughter, and the fact that it all took place in Israeli-occupied territory - the cruel and brutal hands that shed blood are not our hands."

The film made clear to me the Israelis were responsible. Most people especially young people probably never heard of the massacre. If after seeing the movie they look up more about the massacre on the Internet they'll see the Israeli courts held General Sharon responsible.

I think the petulant attitude of people like Donald Johnson alienates people who might otherwise sympathise.

Hmmm, petulant is not a word I would use to describe DJ in general nor would I use it to describe his comment. In fact, I think you really have to work at it to get him annoyed.

Yes, I know there are many who will watch this film and get the impression that its take on what is most awful about this conflict and about the Arabs is that they prick the conscience of young Israelis. How dare they besmirch our self-image! Lebanese society was torn apart, but years later, Israelis have bad dreams: How terrible!

And, ultimately, the only two actors in the film, the pair of foils, are the Israelis and the Phalangists. The Israelis are conscientious, enlightened, timid, reluctant. And the Phalangists have a bloodthirsty and nearly erotic cult of their leader. It's more than a little Orientalizing.

But the thing is, it's a film about Israeli boys, about teenage boys, and everything that implies. They are by turns reckless, overconfident, terrified. They have no sense of what they are going to be involved in. They are children given adult moral responsibilities, and, being children, they have childish thoughts and childish attitudes towards it all. They are forced to participate in the making of history, and they are well in over their heads. The film is a coming-of-age story about people thrust into situations larger than they are, larger than what they are able to process, take responsibility for. So of course it will seem short-sighted. I don't think it really *is* an anti-war film.

So is the film a good or a bad one? I don't know enough about the philosophy of representation to answer questions like this. I don't know what the circumstances are when one ought to take offense, or when one ought to choose one reading something over another.

I liked the film overall (and wrote a piece on it recently). Using animation makes its content more approachable, I think, and worked well with its themes of changing memory, dreams and nightmares. The quality of the animation itself varied. The actual drawings were good, but the motion was sometimes crude and jerky, and at other times fluid. The talking heads were not very expressive. Several sequences were striking, though, with memorable images. Overall, the film didn't affect me as strongly as it did some other viewers, many of whom had a more personal connection to the material. But Folman deserves credit for turning the camera on himself, and I found the very end was brilliant, powerful, and memorable.

Not unless the creators of the movie had that in mind.

Sorry, I failed to read before posting.

Also, my comment was kind of frivolous given the topic.


Also, my comment was kind of frivolous given the topic.

I think you've earned a few dozen of those considering your comments generally speaking.

Ara, thanks for sharing your impressions. I would be interested at some point in comparing it with the book/graphic novel version that is now out. It was excerpted at TomDispatch in January: part one part two.

That will probably have to wait until the DVD is available, because it's pretty unlikely that the film will be screened in my little town. Though there's an outside possibility that the Washington & Lee Hillel chapter could organize a showing...


Petulant? Moi? I thought I was defending the film, while pointing out what some people, Arabs and Israelis, have said in criticism of it.
If my pointing these things out actually alienates people, I would probably describe that reaction as petulant. You really have to be small-minded if you let your opinion on the rights and wrongs of a war be determined by a personal distaste for what some guy on the internet said about a film. And besides, it doesn't hurt to hear what some other people feel about the film, does it?

LJ--Thank you very much, though I think you have that impression because you don't get to see all the stuff I delete before hitting "post".

Ara's 4:16 remark says what I was trying to say a bit more effectively.

"Anyone expecting it to be a fair summary of the war, showing the suffering of Lebanese civilians or about who really did most of the killing, or why the war happened, is going to be disappointed."

I'm not clear why anyone would have those expectations: has the film been publicized as attempting to do any of these things?

"I'm not clear why anyone would have those expectations: has the film been publicized as attempting to do any of these things?"

I don't know. But there aren't very many films about the 1982 Lebanon War or the I/P conflict in general that receive this much publicity and so when one comes along it's not surprising that people treat it as carrying more significance than it can bear. I never saw the Deer Hunter, but I gather it's mainly about the sufferings of US vets--assuming that's correct, if that was the only Vietnam War movie that received a great amount of attention I think you'd be hearing a great deal about how the movie pays too much attention to the sufferings of US vets and not enough to what happened to Vietnamese at the receiving end of US weaponry. In fact, I think I remember seeing such criticisms anyway.

My comment was in response to the two reviews I linked, and it's clear that the two reviewers are judging the film on its choice of topic, and also the filmmaker, and some of its positive reviewers too, for that matter. I was expressing some sympathy for their anger, while defending the movie by pointing out that it has more limited aims.

On second thought, there was also "Munich" a couple years back, which I didn't see, but Asad AbuKhalil (the Angry Arab) has the same reaction to that movie, as he points out. IIRC, there were three sets of reactions to that film--some who criticized it for being too critical of Israel and inaccurate, some who liked what they saw as its balance and praised it, and people like Asad who thought it was insufficiently critical and all about the feelings of Israelis, more shooting and crying. And long before that, there was "The Little Drummer Girl", which I also didn't see, and vaguely recall criticism from the "pro-Israel" crowd at Commentary and not much else. Before that I suppose there was "Exodus"--I never watched it, but it gets panned by the pro-Palestinian side.

"Before that I suppose there was 'Exodus'--I never watched it, but it gets panned by the pro-Palestinian side."

I have a fondness for the film, but I'd have to say that it's straight-out Zionist propaganda, and close to a fantasy version of history, and not at all an honest account. It's the mythic story I, and most American Jews, were raised with or told during the Sixties and Fifties, which I learned via my own studies in my mid-teen years and later was significantly biased, and full of omissions and some outright lies.

It goes to some lengths to include "good Arab" characters, including one who is a great friend to protagonist Paul Newman, but it plays the Israelis as nothing but well-intentioned to the Arabs, with no harm coming to Arabs, other than those who attack innocent Israeli villages and children, who are led by literal Nazis.

It's an immensely slanted version of history, absolutely, and very much heroic propaganda.

I liked Munich very much, and thought it was reasonably balanced, and certainly not uncritical of the Israeli side -- that was the thrust of the movie, after all, particularly questioning the morality and usefulness of targeted assasination in response to terrorist attacks -- but, again, I don't think it in any way staked itself out, or was staked out by Spielberg, as an attempt to tell the events primarily, or equally, from the Palestinian side.

I'd certainly be curious what you make of it should you see it.

I meant to see Munich, but never got around to it. I'll let you know if I ever do.

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