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Hebrew Waltz in Warsaw

Ola Salwa 2008-10-15

An Israeli animated film about the surrealism of war and the marvels of memory, Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir opened the 24th Warsaw Film Festival on 10 October.

This year's programme features six other Israeli films, while the great Israeli actress Gila Almagor is among the festival's guests.

Waltz with Bashir is about a veteran of the First Lebanon War. He tries to reconstruct his participation in the conflict, especially during a massacre of Palestinian civilians, but his damaged memory stands in the way. The director used his own story and other people's memories. The film caused a storm at this year's festival in Cannes, and many critics and observers considered it a scandal that it was ignored in the awards. Thanks to this, the film gained huge popularity and selectors from other festivals are queuing to snap up the movie. Folman himself insisted that his film be shown in Warsaw.

"The director was a guest of the WFF six years ago, when he presented his film Made in Israel. He really liked the festival and its programme," explains Stefan Laudyn, the WFF's director. "He remembered how well he was received in Warsaw and wanted to return. Besides, his family was originally from Lodz, and he wanted to screen his film in Poland."

And Poland wanted to see it. "It's among the films with the largest number of viewers," says one festival office employee.

Festival audiences are familiar with and value Israeli films; last year they gave their award to Eran Kolirin's comedy The Band's Visit, a picture which will screen at Polish cinemas this November. Folman's film will make its way to cinemas as well, as distribution rights for Poland have already been acquired by Against Gravity.

Waltz with Bashir also won the support of actress, writer and director Gila Almagor, the festival's guest of honour. "This is an excellent film, bold and frank," says Almagor, and explains that more and more personal histories are appearing in contemporary Israeli cinema. "I myself was one of the first people to tell my life story in public."

In a retrospective of Almagor's films, viewers will see The Summer of Aviya and its sequel Under the Domim Tree. Both are adaptations of her autobiographical novels. This is the Israeli artist's third visit to Poland, but she emphasizes that she didn't want to come here for many years because of the tragic past linking the two nations. "Now I have come as a tabula rasa, free of memories," she explains. "I have to give dialogue a chance, and art is the perfect language for this."

Four other other films from Israel will screen at the WFF: Tied Hands featuring Almagor; and Eran Riklis's Lemon Tree, Igal Burstyn's Out of the Blue, and the full-length documentary Sharon about former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, all screening in the Master's Touch section. The festival continues until 19 October.

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