Waltz with Bashir

2009-12-30 11:16
Waltz with Bashir

What it's about:

Israeli filmmaker and war veteran Ari Folman realises he has no memory of his involvement in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, while talking to an ex-serviceman friend who is plagued by nightmares. He tracks down and interviews several old friends and comrades who were there, and in doing so, uncovers his own repressed memories of the horrors he experienced.

What we thought:

Waltz with Bashir is the cinematic equivalent of some evil hallucinogenic coated in candy. It's pretty, inviting, and colourful, but by the time you've started digesting it, things have turned very strange and ugly. Regardless of the novel aesthetic and hype surrounding it, it is a very disturbing and thought-provoking film about brutal events.

The animated documentary first screened in South Africa in 2008 at the annual Encounters documentary festival to rave reviews. Ari Folman is a bona fide writer and director, and was actually present at the events portrayed in the film, as were the various people he interviews. This would be just like every other war documentary, only every interview with real people is animated, which closes the gap between the flashbacks and the events taking place in present day.

The combination of dreams and recollections give Waltz with Bashir a very surreal quality, which is apt considering its message about the nature of memories. There are scenes which wouldn’t look out of place in a Hayao Miyazaki film, but these add to the disturbing atmosphere, like ghosts from the past rather than just weird for the sake of weird. The soundtrack also adds considerably, using classical pieces and various 80s songs to recreate the feel of the time.

My biggest problem with Waltz with Bashir is the question of guilt that hangs over it. It leaves no stone unturned in showing the dangers faced by Israeli forces, or the horrors of the war, yet Folman and many of his comrades have a very hard time admitting guilt or showing open condemnation of what the Israeli army did. There are several parallels drawn between the Sabra and Shatila massacre and the atrocities of the Nazis, and most of the men who were there hide behind claims of ignorance. Whether it is enough to simply recall the events and show them to the world, you will have to decide for yourself.

As much as certain parts of the film troubled me, I would recommend it to everyone with an interest in war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, animation, and documentaries. The artwork is beautiful and looks like a graphic novel that has been brought to life, and would be worth the price of admission alone for any comic book fans. As odd as it seems to be so enthused over such a grim story, I can’t help but feel that Waltz with Bashir deserves the dozens of awards and accolades it has received, because it really is something special.

Through conversations with ex-soldiers, a filmmaker rediscovers his own memories of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

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