I’m more than a little bummed that Waltz with Bashir did not win the Oscar. Not that I’ve seen the film that won, but it’s a break from the typical Jewish films up for Oscars which are always about the Holocaust. Seriously, it’s time to find another good-vs-evil setting in which we can inspire ourselves that We Westerners did a Good Job.
But Bradley Burston on Haaretz goes too far — and make a huge bumble along the way. Not only does he say that Hollywood prefers its Jews as perpetually victimized innocents (convenient as that is to most Jews’ self-narrative, barfitty barf barf) but he misquotes Kate Winslet as exploiting the preference for an Oscar. Check this clip via YouTube, which you can also hear used onNPR in a segement about Holocaust obsession in film:

Whoa! But hang on a minute. Bradley Burston has not done his homework. Apparently this clip of Winslet was on the HBO show Extra and she’s satirizing herself and her lack of Oscar trophies despite thrice-over nominations — and three years ago at that. This interview seems to claim some innocence:

“It was only midway through the movie that someone said, ‘Oh, isn’t it funny. It’s like that episode of Extras,’ ” Winslet recalled the other day. “It hadn’t occurred to me, largely because I don’t think of it as a Holocaust movie: If anything, it’s a love story…It’s sort of a post-Holocaust love story. But yes, the irony, I can see it’s amusing.”

Now Burtson has a point: Beaufort, another Israeli film about in Lebanon lost an Oscar last year to a film in which a Jewish concentration camp prisoner forges currency for the Nazis. And you can say what you will about satirizing the Holocaust. And you can say what you will about the moral clean slate that the Holocaust and World War II grants American and Jewish audiences.
But precisely for the point that he says this film should win — “Waltz with Bashir was not made for Hollywood, it was made for human beings” — is precisely the reason it didn’t. The film spoke to Israeli audiences because it relives themes rooted more deeply than Zionism. In American audiences, it gives the barest glimmer of understanding of what burying your wartime experiences must feel like. In American Jewish audiences, it introduces heartfelt culpability and the potential for shame into a dynamic that is otherwise chock full of pre-fabricated pride. But they’re only tastes of feelings that Israeli soldiers already feel. Particularly after my work with Breaking the Silence this time last year, I must argue that those feelings lurk in the psyche of every combat soldier.
Having just reconnected with a high school friend who spent two tours in Iraq and is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a combat medic…I look a little differently on the impact of this film on us non-combatants in the Diaspora and on the average Israeli, most specifically Israelis who served in combat roles.
The animation and voice-acting is all that would give this film an award, not the topic itself. In fact, it’s such an Israeli-oriented film that all but the most educated moviegoer leaves the theater asking, “Why were we in Lebanon again? And when did we leave?” Every Israeli knows. But out here, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and Makom have to produce a viewers’ guide so we get it.
It’s worth remembering that it didn’t lose — it just didn’t win. Getting to the Oscars is still amazing. And the message of the film is still stunning. But it’s more stunning to the Israelis. And perhaps it’s better that way.