An­i­mated over Ari Folman

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN AP­PLE­BAUM

SIX YEARS ago, Is­raeli film-maker Ari Folman found him­self trav­el­ling the world on pro­mo­tional du­ties for Waltz with Bashir. The movie was an an­i­mated, highly per­sonal ac­count of his search for lost mem­o­ries of his time as a 19-year-old sol­dier in the 1982 Le­banon war, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the no­to­ri­ous mas­sacre of Pales­tini­ans by the Chris­tian Pha­langist mili­tia at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The film gar­nered in­ter­na­tional ac­claim, win­ning a Golden Globe and mak­ing Os­car his­tory by be­com­ing the first an­i­mated fea­ture to be nom­i­nated for the best for­eign-lan­guage film award. It should have been a happy time. How­ever, the direc­tor — whose ex­tra­or­di­nary new film The Congress opens in the UK this week — paints a darker pic­ture.

“For me, trav­el­ling for nearly a year, talk­ing about the war and my­self be­came a night­mare,” re­calls Folman, speak­ing from his home in a vil­lage 25 kilo­me­tres north of Tel Aviv. Waltz with Bashir had been a film “that I had to do”. But, af­ter it, “I wanted to do some­thing com­pletely op­po­site. And I thought that sci-fi could give the per­fect es­cape route, and it did in many ways. The Congress was me run­ning away from Waltz with Bashir.” Yet the Gaza con­flict can­not help but re­mind him of the past. Although the sirens near his home have re­mained silent so far, in Jaffa, where his stu­dio is based, they have gone off “once or twice a day on av­er­age. We were sup­posed to go to the safe room [when the sirens went off], which, ba­si­cally, is the stair­case of the build­ing. That is more [the sit­u­a­tion] on a prac­ti­cal level. I would say that more than any­thing for me, it’s de­press­ing.” Be­cause it feels like his­tory re­peat­ing it­self? “Be­cause it keeps hap­pen­ing again and again and again. This is very sad. And the fact that there is no hori­zon, that there is noth­ing to look for­ward to in the fu­ture, is even worse.”

Folman admits that he has be­come “less and less op­ti­mistic” about a so­lu­tion to the con­flict be­ing found. “I think there are no lead­ers that can take tough de­ci­sions from both sides and make com­pro­mises,” he says grimly.

Waltz with Bashir split opinion when it was re­leased in Is­rael. “There were peo­ple who thought I had be­trayed my coun­try,” he re­cently told an Ir­ish news­pa­per. “I was a col­lab­o­ra­tor. But a lot of peo­ple thought I was do­ing some­thing that was open­ing young minds.”

Would the re­ac­tion be dif­fer­ent to­day? “That’s a clever ques­tion,” he re­sponds drily. “It would be a night­mare to re­lease the movie now. And a danger­ous thing as well. Phys­i­cally danger­ous. That is be­cause pub­lic opinion changed and be­came more rad­i­cal.”

He is on safer ground with The Congress — adapted from Stanis­law Lem’s novel, The Fu­tur­o­log­i­cal Congress — a blis­ter­ing mix of live ac­tion and an­i­ma­tion that is part mind-bend­ing sci-fi, part cor­us­cat­ing Hol­ly­wood satire and part med­i­ta­tion on con­scious­ness, iden­tity and be­ing hu­man.

At its core i s a c o mpell i n g , mul t i - l a y e r e d

‘IT WOULD BE A NIGHT­MARE TO RE­LEASE WALTZ WITH BASHIR NOW — OPIN­IONS HAVE CHANGED’

per­for­mance by Robin Wright, play­ing a ver­sion of her­self who, when told that her ca­reer is over, signs a con­tract al­low­ing a stu­dio to use her dig­i­tal like­ness in new projects while she goes off and lives her life else­where. It sounds sim­ple, but tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments and the stu­dio’s in­creas­ingly out­ra­geous de­mands take Wright, the film and the viewer on a wild, sur­real head-trip that will baf­fle some and en­thral oth­ers.

Iron­i­cally, The Congress feels an­grier than Waltz with Bashir, although Folman takes a dif­fer­ent view. “The rea­son I went to film school was be­cause the role of a direc­tor was mainly to make magic hap­pen on the set in a very lim­ited pe­riod of time, be­tween your­self and the ac­tors, the cin­e­matog­ra­pher, the art de­part­ment. And if it was not cre­ated on the set, noth­ing would save you. To­day, the set is just a plat­form for mak­ing the movie in post-pro­duc­tion, in many cases. So I wouldn’t use the word ‘anger’. I would use the word ‘long­ing’ — for a dif­fer­ent era in film-mak­ing.”

He be­lieves we are see­ing the end of the cin­ema-go­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as we know it, pre­dict­ing that, in five years’ time, go­ing to watch a movie will be like go­ing to a con­cert. “Maybe the next Mike Leigh movie — well, the one af­ter that — will be screened in a mu­seum, not in a mul­ti­plex,” he muses.

Folman hopes that his next ven­ture, an an­i­mated ver­sion of the Anne Frank story, will be seen by as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.

His par­ents met in the Lodz ghetto and were mar­ried on Au­gust 18, 1944. The fol­low­ing morn­ing they were sent to Auschwitz. He had no in­ten­tion of do­ing another an­i­mated fea­ture, or mak­ing a Holo­caust film. But when ap­proached to tell Anne’s story, he quickly re­alised that he had to do it. He is be­ing given ac­cess to the Anne Frank ar­chives.

“They want me to make it for young teenagers. For me it was an of­fer I could not refuse, con­sid­er­ing that both my par­ents are Auschwitz grad­u­ates. I see it as a great mis­sion for me.”

With re­newed an­ti­semitism around the world and the day near­ing when there will be no more sur­vivors to bear wit­ness to the Holo­caust, Folman agrees that it is im­per­a­tive to find fresh ways of keep­ing the mem­o­ries alive for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. “When I see my kids per­form­ing on Holo­caust Day in their school, I am em­bar­rassed to sit in the au­di­ence,” he says. “They’re quot­ing things we quoted 40 years ago and they don’t un­der­stand any­thing in any depth. Noth­ing. So we do need to find the right way to keep on telling these sto­ries, def­i­nitely.

“At least you give the Jewish peo­ple an op­tion to mem­o­rise and un­der­stand what it means.”

‘The Congress’ is re­leased to­day

Ari Folman (in­set) and a scene from The

Congress

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