|Director: Ari Folman
|Screenplay: Ari Folman
|Voices: Ron Ben-Yishai (Himself), Ronny Dayag (Himself), Ari Folman (Himself), Dror Harazi (Himself), Yehezkel Lazarov (Carmi Cna'an), Mickey Leon (Boaz Rein-Buskila), Ori Sivan (Himself), Zahava Solomon (Herself)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 2008
|Country: Israel / Germany / France / U.S. / Finland / Switzerland / Belgium / Australia
Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir is a film about the pursuit of memory, an elusive subject if ever there were one, and in his groundbreaking mixture of documentary aesthetics and both cutting-edge Flash and traditional forms of animation, Folman has found what may be the perfect medium to convey the slippery edges between past and present, real and imagined, dreamed and remembered. While powerfully unique in its aesthetic design, the film is nevertheless strangely familiar in the way it incorporates a wide range of styles that are both classically cinematic and aggressively postmodern in their evocation of new forms of multimedia and online aesthetics. Told primarily in burnished shades of gold and gray, it feels like a fever dream, but moves forward with the churning internal logic and dogged persistence of a mystery-thriller.
If one were to try to corner the film with generic descriptors, the most apt might be “antiwar psychological autobiography” because it emanates directly from the writer/director’s own experiences as an Israeli Defense Force soldier during the 1982 Lebanese War, which included the two-day massacre of hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians by a Lebanese militia group (while the Israelis did not actively participate in the killings, they received international blame for allowing it to happen). Yet, the crux of the film is that Folman does not remember anything that happened during that period. He has, in effect, blocked it out, and, having been spurned to think about it again after many years by a friend who is haunted by nightmares of his own military experiences, seeks out those who were with him during the Lebanese War. Thus, Folman immediately establishes a narrative premise that draws the audience in by creating a mystery (What has he forgotten? What did he experience? Why has he blocked it out?), but also comments effectively on the very nature of history and memory and how both are revered, but ultimately unreliable. We must construct the past in order to understand it, but ultimately all we have in the end is the construction.
Throughout the film Folman approaches various friends with whom he served, as well an Israeli news correspondent who was in the thick of battle in Beirut and a psychotherapist who helps him to understand why he has blocked out these crucial memories. With rare exception, the characters on screen are real-life personalities portrayed by themselves, and Folman’s engagement with them is genuine. He is not so much making a film as he is using the film to reconstruct his own past and, in a larger metaphorical sense, the past of the Israeli people. That, in a nutshell, sounds incredibly pretentious, but Folman approaches the material with such openness and candor and willingness to expose his own fragilities that you can’t help but see him as a symbolic everyman, the fundamentally decent human being caught up in extraordinarily terrible circumstances that his own psyche has rejected out of self-preservation, which is a microcosm of how national histories tend to elevate the grandiose narratives at the expense of all the ugliness it took to get there.
Waltz With Bashir is told almost entirely through the medium of animation, which was based on video footage of the actual people interacting (although, unlike traditional rotoscoping, the animation was not done on top of the live-action footage; rather, the artists used it as a guide for creating wholly new imagery). As an approach to history, it is a challenging and potentially divisive maneuver, but one that feels extraordinarily right (Brett Morgen used a similar approach in his incendiary 2007 documentary Chicago 10). Because Folman foregrounds the nature of memory and its role in historiography, the visually compelling nature of the animation also comments powerfully on the distinction between the actual past and our understanding of it. However well you remember something, that thing is gone in time and all we have left is the trace memories of it in our mind, which the imagery, treading as it does a thin line between realism and hyperstylization, poignantly underscores. Some of the film’s most powerful moments, including a shot of a young soldier playing air guitar on his machine gun while tanks and military personnel move in sped-up motion behind him, seem only possible as animated images. The characters are clearly cartoonish with their dark black outlines and monochromatic color schemes, but the world they inhabit is so detailed and at times photorealistic (especially light and smoke) that it becomes all too easy to forget we’re watching animation at all.
Which brings us to the film’s controversial final shots, which jarringly rip us from the realm of the animated into actual atrocity footage that, narratively speaking, the film has been building toward since its very first frames. On an intellectual level, I can understand and respect what Folman is going for here, thrusting us directly into the low-res video reality of unspeakable violence that his own psyche has forced him to forget. Yet, it strikes me as fundamentally unnecessary, and it also demeans the power of the animated footage, which has sufficiently implored us to recognize the horrors of war and the frailties of the human spirit. We didn’t need to see the actual bloated bodies to know they exist, and it leaves you with the impression that Folman didn’t entirely trust the animation to convey the film’s thematic power. Yet, even with this crucial misstep in its final seconds, there is no denying that Waltz With Bashir is a powerful statement about both human violence and the toll it takes on the human soul.
|Waltz With Bashir Blu-Ray|
Hebrew Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
English Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
Audio commentary by director Ari Folman
“Surreal Soldiers: The Making of Waltz With Bashir” featurette
Q&A With Ari Folman
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||June 23, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Not surprisingly, the high-definition 1080p transfer of Waltz With Bashir looks marvelous. The high-contrast animated image is sharp and well detailed, in terms of both the hard-edged Flash-animated figures and the softer background images like smoke and flares. Much of the film is nearly monochromatic, with emphasis on golden tones and various shades of gray, all of which is flawlessly represented. The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround soundtrack is available in both the original Hebrew and in English, and both sound sharp and clear, with great immersive surround effects during the battle sequences and the use of ’80s-era pop and rock music to set the context.
|Writer/director Ari Folman contributes a lucid, intelligent audio commentary in perfect English. He speaks with great candor about his personal reasons for making the film and also discusses in detail the technical and aesthetic issues involved in making an “animated documentary.” Much of that material is also discussed in “Surreal Soldiers: The Making of Waltz With Bashir,” an engaging featurette that includes interviews with Folman and many of the animators, as well as the raw video footage used to inspire the animation. Folman also appears in post-screening Q&A session at a film festival, and we also get to see a section of “animatics” of four sequences, which, depending on the sequence, shows the original video footage, rough animatics, storyboards, and the various layers of animation.
Overall Rating: (3.5)
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