DVD Review: Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir has one of cinema's more memorable openings, as we follow a ferocious pack of dogs tearing through a city at night-time. Although they terrify everyone they pass, they're single-minded in their objective: seeking out one window to gather beneath and bark.

This is Boaz's dream: that the twenty-six dogs he killed in the 1982 Lebanon war seek him out for revenge. He's relating it to Ari Folman, the director and main 'character' of this animated documentary, a film that perhaps takes a leaf from Richard Linklater's Waking Life. Folman, it transpires, twenty years after serving in the war, had difficulty remembering any of his experiences from that time, and Waltz with Bashir depicts his attempts to discern why.

I generally have a real issue with dramatised documentaries. The drama all too often results in the sacrifice of factual content by depicting events inaccurately and taking up too much time. But in animating Waltz with Bashir, Folman has made a bold statement: both an acknowledgement that, as we're told early on in the film, memories are highly interpretative, and a way of depicting the physical and emotional experiences of the people he interviews with equal weighting.

The style of animation - though gorgeous and very much inspired by modern graphic novels - can be quite stilted in places, with something of the appearance of shadow puppets. And yet, this strangely dream-like motion is entirely appropriate. Coupled with an intense musical score, the strong images, while as inaccurate as any live-action re-enactment, manage to inspire perhaps the shadowed, empathic equivalents of the life-changing emotions that Folman and these other soldiers experienced at the time.

The one part of the war that Folman experienced but is ultimately unable to recollect is the massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian Philangists, an event that seems to be deeply tied to why Folman experienced amnesia in the first place. This necessarily becomes the focus of the film's last act, as Folman shows us the experiences of an Israeli soldier on the periphery of the camps, and a reporter who ventured within to see the aftermath. Considering the film as a whole, I found this to be the tiniest of missteps.

The strength of the earlier parts of the film lies in their personal and emotional nature. At this point, however, things become broader and more factual. But it is largely unavoidable, I think, and the main body of the movie could be seen as fostering the necessary engagement to make us really care about an atrocity that will typically be depicted as dry numbers and impersonal facts.

Waltz with Bashir is quite simply a striking film, documenting a more personal side of history - often ignored or sensationalised - with bold, affecting artistry. Seek it out at your first opportunity.


Michelle said...

This looks really, really good. Netflix doesn't have it, but I put it in my Amazon cart. Interestingly, there was a review that had this in it:

"It was not by accident that when he won the Golden Globe, Folman didn't even mention the war in Gaza, which was raging as he accepted the prestigious award. The images coming out of Gaza that day looked remarkably like those in Folman's film. But he was silent."

Very strange.

I'll definitely have to see this for myself.

gnome said...

An excellent film indeed. Beautiful, striking and quite close to the truth, though it did leave me with a sense of not quite capturing what Palestinians have been going through for, well, 60+ years.

mark said...

yes...shall do so...love that first screen capture

georgeolivergo said...

This had a limited release here a month or two ago. I liked it a lot, but left feeling not sure if it sensationalized or over-dramatized some of the narrative. Perhaps this shows how effective it was on a personal level.