Waltz with Bashir
Stupendous movie. Ari Folman has made a war film unlike any other. For a start, it’s animation. And it’s autobiographical (comparisons with Persepolis only get us so far, but it’s the closest counterpart I can think of). And it’s a kind of documentary exposť – a film intent on exposing a stain on the conscience of the state of Israel.
It begins with a friend’s troubled confession. Every night he is plagued with the same nightmare: a pack of 26 vicious dogs runs through the streets to end up under his window. Always 26. Ari and his old comrade conclude that this has something to do with their time together in the Israeli army in the early 80s, and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. What troubles Folman most about this period in his life is that he has no memory of it at all. He can scarcely believe he was in Beirut at all.
Hoping to fill this void and perhaps get to the bottom of his friend’s strange dream, he sets out to interview as many of his old platoon as he can. Piecing together their recollections, his own suppressed memories and dreams begin to surface, albeit in fractured, piecemeal, and sometimes bewildering fashion.
Visually the work resembles the rotoscoping process Richard Linklater used for A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, although without the same throbbing effect. In this case Yoni Goodman and his team animated from scratch, using the videotaped interviews and some filmed dramatic reconstructions as a reference point and mixing traditional cel and 3D animation techniques.
The results range from starkly photo-realistic effects – in the monochromatic interview scenes for example – to strange, hallucinatory flashbacks, bathed in the orange phosphorescence of street lights, night flares or engorged sunsets. The feel is closer to a graphic novel than to traditional animated movies.
The obvious question is: why animate? When I saw Folman give a Q&A the explanation was simple enough: “I always saw it that way, and if it was a straight documentary I wouldn’t be here – and you wouldn’t either.”
That may be true, but before we decide that all documentaries should be done this way it’s worth remembering how well the technique serves Folman’s specific purpose: Waltz with Bashir is essentially about the vagaries of memory, how the brain suppresses certain unpalatable truths, but they come out anyway in distorted forms. The flashbacks are more forceful and vivid for their altered state.
As to the “rosebud” moment, the explanation that accounts for the Israelis’ troubled conscience, it depends on how clued up you are on the history of this conflict as to whether it will come as a shock or not (if you’re read Rawi Hage’s terrific novel “De Niro’s Game”, for example, you’ll be well versed in the context). Either way, it would take a mighty cold temperament not to be moved by the events depicted here.
As for the title – that too is best discovered for yourself, but it’s a delirious, authentically surreal sequence, one of the best of the year.
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