The grim dance of ‘Waltz With Bashir’

Dec. 27, 2008 | 10:26 p.m.

What current film am I most eager to see? That would be "Waltz With Bashir," the Israeli animated film, a choice that may surprise regular readers of this blog because the majority of my time and keystrokes are devoted to the mainstream superhero cinema of the moment.

You may not even have heard about "Bashir," which was written and directed by Ari Folman, the Haifa native who has become one of his nation’s top documentary filmmakers and is also one of the writers on the Israeli TV show that became HBO’s "In Treatment." Here’s a trailer for "Bashir," Folman’s third film and his first animated feature.

Wow. The images, the themes and the techniques put "Bashir" in a fascinating sector of recent illustrated books and films; Joe Sacco’s "Palestine" and Marjane Satrapi’s "Persepolis" spring to mind quickly, while Richard Linklater’s grossly underrated "A Scanner Darkly" may be a dream-time distant cousin. And with the events that are unfolding right now in Gaza City, the film has an urgency and painful relevance for today’s audience…

"Bashir" opened in the U.S. on Christmas Day. The film, made for $1.5 million and by eight animators, revolves around Folman’s military duty during Israel’s controversial invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the searing nightmares that remain with him. "Bashir" took five years to make and, apparently, is only the second animated film in the history of Israeli cinema.

I’ve been poking around the Internet, and everything I’ve read about the film makes me want to see it more.

Waltzwithbashir_2For instance, here’s what Kenny Turan, the esteemed film critic of the Los Angeles Times, wrote about the premise and approach of the movie:

Even though he too took part in that invasion, Folman realizes that he has absolutely no memories of what he experienced.

That’s especially troubling to him because the Israeli army’s time in Lebanon included standing by while Christian Falangist militia went on a killing rampage at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, murdering thousands of Palestinian civilians to revenge the death of their assassinated leader, Bashir Gemayel.

The filmmaker wakes his friend Orin, a psychiatrist, who tells him "memory takes us where we need to go."

Folman decides that where he needs to go is on an investigation of his past, on a physical journey to talk to friends and army veterans about the invasion experience in the hopes that he will find out what he did.

Folman ended up taping nine people; seven of them agreed to be seen and heard on camera; the other two had their interviews read by actors. The director cut the resulting tapes as if he were making a conventional live-action documentary and handed the result to his team of animators, who used three kinds of drawn-from-scratch animation to bring everything to life.

Waltz_with_bashir_posterBecause the things these men remembered slide so easily into dreams and fantasy, there’s no more effective way to convey what we hear and see than through animation. Told with dynamic energy, these stories unnerve you in ways more conventional footage simply would not. A Lebanese family in a car is slaughtered only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. An Israeli officer obsessively watches German porn. A soldier and his machine gun waltz through a hail of bullets in front of a huge wall poster of Bashir.

If "Waltz With Bashir" has a recurring image, it comes out of Folman’s unconscious, a surreal memory of himself emerging naked from the sea with a weapon in his hands while the beach is lit up with orange night flares.

Here’s more, this time from James Christopher, writing for the Times of London, who gave the film four out of five stars:

Ari Folman’s hypnotic cartoon Waltz With Bashir is a dramatic milestone in the way documentaries are told. The film animates the dreams and traumatic personal memories of Israeli soldiers who fought against the Palestinians in the first Lebanese war in the early 1980s. It’s so beautifully painted that it is hard to believe the ingredients.

And for those of you who put more stock in fanboy corners of the Internet than the trad media, here’s what Dan Jolin blurbed for Empire magazine:

A bravura documentary which balances the personal and the political as it peers into the First Lebanon War, its animated approach never feeling like a novelty. Astonishing, unforgettable: you have to see it.

I get the feeling we will be hearing a great deal about this film in the months to come. I’ll write more about it after I make it to a screening.

Have a happy new year….

– Geoff Boucher

Credits: All images from Image.net

 

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