Sebald and Sabra

Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir film still

The connection between photography and memory is a facile one. Who doesn’t have a photograph of a time or place that they would like to remember? The school photo, the vacation snapshot, the wedding photograph all verify, more concretely than memory, that a certain moment occurred. Or do they? Even before digital manipulation, photography has had, at best, a loose relationship with reality. On the one hand, we are taught to consider photographs as representations of the real when they appear in newspapers, court rooms, scientific publications, etc. But even these images are produced by way of any number of subjective decisions which determine the “reality” of what is portrayed.

So what put me on this line of thought? First, I’m currently reading The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald which is a combination of reminiscence by the narrator and his chronicling of the lives and travels of the four emigrants of the title. Though the narrator is never identified, I can’t help thinking it’s Sebald himself. It’s a thought that’s at odds with the book being a work of fiction. This tension between document and fiction is strengthened by photographs placed throughout the text as if they have been collected from various shoe boxes and albums of the characters. The images, though they appear to relate to the text, could very well be a collection of unrelated images around which the author created his story. The book has me wondering, as if I were watching a movie “based on a true story,” how much is remembrance and how much is pure fabrication.

In contrast to Sebald construction of fiction from “real” representations of the world (i.e. photographs), Ari Folman’s film Waltz with Bashir uses a stylized form of representation (animation) to portray real events. It’s an animated documentary. Here the animation enhances the subjectiveness of memory as Folman, a former Israeli soldier, tries to recall the events of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The film moves back and forth between past and present as Folman interviews various people involved trying to uncover the memories he himself has blocked out. Slowly things come to light as his memory returns culminating in a final denouement which I will leave a surprise. The film is a powerful contemplation on war and memory.

One thought on “Sebald and Sabra

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *