Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)

Waltz with Bashir

Smoke on the water, fire in the skies…

(2008) Animated Feature (Sony Classics) Starring the voices of Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ori Sivan, Ronny Dayag, Shmuel Frenkel, Zahava Solomon, Dror Harazi, Mickey Leon, Yehezkel Lazarov. Directed by Ari Folman

 

War is often ascribed certain characteristics that certain segments of society deem glorious. In truth, war is an entirely different experience for those who actually fight it. Only generals and civilians can admire war; those in the trenches rarely do.

This is a unique combination between documentary and animation; the voices we hear are those of the actual participants, including Folman the director. What occurs is that one of Folman’s friends, Boaz (portrayed here by Leon) has been having this unnerving recurring dream of being chased by 26 dogs, all threatening and all menacing. Boaz believes that this dream is connected with his service in the First Lebanon War in which both he and Folman fought in the Israeli army.

In Folman’s case, he can’t remember anything about his time in the war. He seems to have blacked it all out. Determined to fill in the blank spot, he contacts other soldier friends, a psychologist and a reporter. He begins to suss out memories of the massacre of Muslim and Palestinian civilians by the Christian Phalangist militia members in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps which were carried out in response to the assassination of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel by a terrorist who was later thought to be acting on the orders of Syrian intelligence (although at the time that wasn’t known).

The more Folman digs, the more he discovers about his role in the war. However were those memories truly his or were they inventions of his guilty conscience of being aware of what was going on in the refugee camps without taking action to stop the genocide of innocents?

The massacre is a very sensitive topic in both Israel and Lebanon (where this film is officially banned to this day). The investigation into it by the United Nations has not painted a pretty picture about the Israeli military or the government of Lebanon. There is evidence that the Israeli military, while not active in the massacre, was at the very least complicit in the crime and was fully aware of what the Phalangists were up to.

Here in the United States we are woefully ignorant of what goes on in the rest of the world when we are not directly involved. I can’t say I knew much about the First Lebanese War nor anything about the massacre before seeing this film. The images here are both stark and dream-like. Folman spent three years animating this film with an entire staff of eight animators (a single character in a Hollywood animated feature will often utilize dozens of animators) and while it might look otherwise, not a single frame was rotoscoped (a style of animation in which the animation is drawn over filmed content for a realistic look – Ralph Bakshi’s work is an example of this type of animation).

Folman uses color to an advantage, often changing the palette to underscore powerful images. Those images are often brutal, sometimes comical but almost always compelling. The one real issue I have with the film is that the movie can move from hyper-real to surreal in the blink of an eye, which can be jarring. Of course, in this instance, dreams and reality merge to a certain extent to form memory and who’s to say which is which?

This is a powerful movie that may not necessarily be for everyone; some of the imagery is graphic ad disturbing. It was nominated for a Best Foreign Language film Oscar and could  have easily have gotten Best Picture and Best Animated Feature nods as well. It remains a massive critical favorite and is one of the most important films to come out of Israel in the last decade. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but should be at least considered for viewing for those who are looking for powerful movie viewing experiences.

WHY RENT THIS: Gripping and horrifying. Unique animation style. The ending is intensely powerful.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The intensity may be too much for some. Occasionally moves from the hyper-real to the surreal without warning.

FAMILY VALUES: Even though this is an animated feature, it is not for kids – there are scenes of wartime atrocities, graphic sex, brief nudity, extreme violence and some disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a Q&A session with director Folman from an unnamed screening or festival screening of the film; there’s also a nifty featurette on the process that went into the unique animation style of the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.1M on an unreported production budget; chances are the movie made back it’s production costs.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lebanon

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Silverado

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