Waltz With Bashir


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Waltz With Bashir
"Folman's use of animation permits an audience to engage with the events, such as they are recalled, in a way that the simple testimony of those involved could not achieve."

Animation, initially, seems an unlikely bedfellow for documentary, but there are precedents. Although Waltz With Bashir arguably marks the first full-length animated documentary, short films, such as Never Like The First Time – which explores the loss of virginity – have put this approach to good use in the past, embracing the creative freedom the medium offers to take the information we are hearing beyond basic illustration. Equally, Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock have never known to shy away from a piece of animated exposition when it suits their purpose and several fiction animations, such as Barefoot Gen, have set their action against a verite backdrop.

Here, director Ari Folman draws on his own memories of the 1982 Lebanon War, or rather the lack of such memories. At the time he was a teenage soldier and, despite not playing an active role, was present when the Christian Phalangist militia conducted massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. This is the memory he has blocked and which he seeks to unlock.

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The film begins with the event that sparks his journey, a conversation with his friend Boaz Rein Buskila, who is unable to shake free of his memories of the war. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare in which he is being chased mercilessly by a pack of dogs. Thanks to the freedoms offered by animation, Folman plunges us into this nighttime hell, as the baying dogs snarl their way through the streets in pursuit. The colour palette is that of a strange dreamscape, deep blues of night broken only by the snapping of the animal's jaws, which in other parts of the film give way to the golds of the heated Lebanon landscape.

Prompted by his friend's problems, and troubled by his own lack of recollection, Folman sets about interviewing those who were with him in the army at the time and the resulting interviews – seven of which are the actual people and two re-read by actors – are turned into a haunting and powerful document about the harrowing effects of war on those who participate.

As much concerned with the war of the mind than war on the ground, Folman’s use of animation allows him to examine the surreality of fighting and memory. This technique permits an audience to engage with the events, such as they are recalled, in a way that the simple testimony of those involved could not achieve. There are no glorious battles here, just boredom and confusion as each event blurs into the next, while one of Folman’s only recollections, of he and his friends wading in a sickly yellow sea recurs, prompting the question: What just happened? The animated style is most reminiscent of the rotoscoping technique used in the likes of A Scanner Darkly – although there was, in fact, no rotoscoping involved, with each image being drawn from scratch – and the movement of the characters is often disjointed, mirroring the vagueness of memories and enforcing the sense of being caught in the middle of a particularly disturbing dream.

Folman uses actual documentary footage sparingly but when he does it comes with an almighty wallop, dragging us like the soldiers from eerily disturbing, yet strangely comforting dreamscape into the harshest of realities. This is a demanding watch but one which asks serious questions about our memories and whether we sometimes may ‘choose’ to forget.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2008
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Animated documentary exploring the psychological aftermath of the First Lebanon War.
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Director: Ari Folman

Writer: Ari Folman

Starring: Voices of: Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Ari Folman, Dror Harazi, Yehezkel Lazarov, Mickey Leon, Ori Sivan, Zahava Solomon

Year: 2008

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Israel, Germany, France

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