An Interview with Avi Mograbi (Director)
What Is the Filmmaker’s Role as a Moral Person, as a Political Person, as a Human Being, When He Encounters Such a Story?
Q: Many people will compare your film to Waltz with Bashir. Is this a productive comparison?
AM: It is very interesting that those two films came out at about the same time, first of all because both deal with the experience of a soldier, and both deal with war crimes, but also the fact that both use unusual means and techniques in a documentary context. In both films there’s a lot of animation. It’s interesting that both are from Israel, which is not an animation superpower.
But they are very different. They look very different. But more than that, Ari Folman’s film deals mainly with the soldier’s trauma, and his search for the lost memory, whereas in my film of course the soldier has not forgotten anything. My film deals more with the more abstract question of what we as a civil society do with such an event once it is presented to us, how do we deal with our responsibility for raising kids to become war criminals, and how do we deal with the aftermath of such an event, and this is something that Waltz with Bashir doesn’t touch.
Q: How does this use of CGI-masks over the protagonists’ faces affect the film’s capacity to represent atrocity?
AM: One of the problems with watching documentaries about atrocities is that a lot of times the protagonists can’t be identified. When you have this image of a person in a hood with holes cut for eyes, he immediately looks like a terrorist. It was very important to me in this film that your evaluation would not be instant but would develop as the story was told, but also in the end it was very important to me that you would not think that this person is a monster, a natural born murderer, because he’s not, he’s an ordinary person. This is a normal person who has gone through a certain upbringing that involved indoctrination. He is not just “the Israeli soldier.” He is the Soldier.
The mask gives you the feeling that you are seeing a real person. The fact that someone would start looking at young people and start thinking, “maybe it’s him, maybe it’s him, or maybe it’s him,” in a way is putting a question mark over a lot of people and questioning how we are implicated in this.
Q: What about the criticism that with this startling animated effect you are aestheticizing an atrocity?
AM: Anything we do is aesthetic. The question is what kind of aesthetics. I don’t think we should deal with atrocity in black-and-white or with dramatic music. Atrocities are related by normal people in a normal way. If you suddenly become sad and serious I’m not sure that I’d believe you, because that is not how humans behave, and, we also sometimes make jokes about atrocities, and at least in Israel, holocaust jokes are very, very common.
Q: What is your responsibility as a filmmaker towards his guilt?
AM: I’m not the judge here, and I’m definitely not the executioner. But, I collaborated with a war criminal. On the one hand I would say yes, all war criminals should be arrested, but on the other hand I have asked this war criminal to appear in my film. He agreed, and my commitment here was not to expose him. I have taken a commitment that I will never be able to come out clean of. Whatever I do, I’m fucked.
(Compiled by Oliver Dew)
Interviewers: Oliver Dew, Tsuruoka Yuki
Photography: Kimuro Shiho / Video: Kudo Rumiko / 2009-10-10