Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
The music stops for ‘Waltz’
In one of the biggest surprises on Oscar night, the animated Israeli documentary Waltz with Bashir did not walk away as many expected with the famed statuette in the Foreign Film category, which instead went to Japanese film Departures.
Even the star of Departures acknowledged he was expecting Waltz with Bashir to win the Academy Award.
The hype in Israel surrounding the movie- which won a Golden Globe earlier in the year – had provided a spark of optimism in the country where politics, regional relations and the economy have been weighing heavily on the public mood.
Some are already suggesting the failure of Waltz on Hollywood’s biggest night was some form of censure for the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza.
An editorial cartoon in the Israeli press made the connection - showing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presenting director Ari Folman with a consolation prize and saying “We made you a statuette out of Cast Lead”. Operation Cast Lead was the Israeli code name for the Gaza offensive launched late last year with the stated aim of countering militant rocket fire from inside Gaza. It provoked much international criticism of Israel, notably over hundreds of civilians killed and wounded.
Echoing the glum mood elicited by Waltz’s failure – another cartoon in Israel’s leading Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper has a man reacting to the headline “Disappointment at the Oscars” saying “There’s another failure of the Lebanon War” – a reference as much to the broadly unpopular and inconclusive 2006 battle with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon as to the 1980s invasion of Lebanon that is the subject of Ari Folman’s astonishing animated flashback.
A more nuanced view, perhaps, comes from Israeli commentator Bradley Burston who says in this article that Waltz’s failure was primarily down to Hollywood’s unwillingness to move beyond its portrayal of Jews as either Holocaust victims and survivors, “cutesy, comic Yiddishers” or “noble, chiselled, ascetically moral kibbutzniks”.
Burston recalls a 2005 episode of the edgy British comedy series Extras where Kate Winslet, playing herself playing a nun in a World War Two movie, prophetically explains backstage to an extra wearing a German military uniform that Holocaust movies are Oscar gold dust.
“I noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar. I’ve been nominated four times. Never won. The whole world is going, ‘Why hasn’t Winslet won one?’….That’s why I’m doing it,” she says.
Four years on and guess what – the Best Actress Oscar in the 2009 ceremony went to Kate Winslet for her role as a former Nazi prison guard in The Reader.
(Photo Credit: ‘Waltz with Bashir’ director Ari Folman at the 81st Academy Awards ceremony. REUTERS/Jason Reed)