19 January 2009

Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir took director Ari Folman four years to finish, between research and extensive interviews, as well as a painstaking animation process. It has won a bunch of awards including best foreign film at the Golden Globes (did that already happen). The New Yorker blurb about the movie starts: "A documentary cartoon may sound like an oxymoron (it it not the duty of animation to elasticate reality?)" The film is hard to classify, but to me it came off as more of a memoir than a documentary. Although it revolves around the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila, at which the 19-year-old Israeli soldier Folman was present, the specifics of that event are vague. We learn more about the psychological effect of the event on the Israeli soldiers that Folman was with, more than twenty years later.

Though the style of drawings used in the film look more like certain edgier books being published by Vertigo and even Marvel Comics, the animation used some of the same process of Richard Linklater's rotoscoping made famous by his movie Waking Life in 2001. Waltz with Bashir sometimes resembles Waking Life in it's discussion of memory, philosophy and psychology, but I don't want to make too much of the comparison. Waking Life sounds like dorm room psuedo-intellectual crap (as far as I can remember), while Waltz for Bashir, even as it meanders through interviews and events with little regard for structure, is contantly compelling. It's vagueness makes the viewer want more, as opposed to less (as in boredom induced by Waking Life).

Many of the subjects of the interviews are replaced by voice actors and animated characters that don't resemble their real life counterparts. The film weaves in between the interviews, as well as images of the war and the events leading up the massacre, but the cuts are often confusing and abrupt. The basic premise is that Ari Folman realizes that he can't remember that part of the war, and he interviews other soldiers to ask them what had happened, hoping to find his own memory. Through friends, he learns a lot about what was happening at the time, as well as their different reactions to the post traumatic stress, one soldier who sees the dogs that he killed in his dreams, another who feels no psychological trauma at all. It becomes a series of fictionalized memories from different perspectives, which is why it is more like a memoir than a documentary. It's less about the event itself, and more about the way the event has shaped the lives of Folman and his friends and fellow soldiers.

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