On the days between Sept. 16 and 18 in 1982, during the Lebanese Civil War, Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen entered two Palestinian refugee camps and slaughtered innocent civilians inside. The lives of mothers, brothers, fathers, daughters, friends and lovers were destroyed in an act of atrocious genocide. Although exact numbers are not known the estimates run anywhere from 800 to 3500 killed. The incident became known as the Sabra and Chatila Massacre, forever ingrained in the minds of all involved, including filmmaker Ari Folman, who was a soldier in the Israeli Army and in Lebanon during the war.
A stunning and highly emotional film by Folman, “Waltz With Bashir,” which won the Los Angeles Film Critic’s award for “Best Animation,” combines the insightful nature of a documentary with the world of animation to form the unique retelling of a story that must not be forgotten.
With a haunting and painfully beautiful score by Max Richter, “Waltz With Bashir,” is a visual masterpiece with an eye-candy approach that also has a deeper meaning. The color and style of the animation, the music, which ranges from OMD’s “Enola Gay” to The Click’s “Inkubator” as well as the subject matter make this one movie that you’ll be sorry to miss.
The film begins with a friend of Folman’s telling him a story at a bar about a recurring nightmare in which he is being constantly chased by 26 rabid dogs.
After their conversation, they both come to the realization that the dream is connected to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early 80s. While his friend seems to have a clear memory of the time he spent there, Folman has developed a strange amnesia about that time in his life and now has large holes in his memory of his army days. Confused by his inability to remember such a significant part of his life and haunted by a recurring sequence in which he finds himself standing a crowd of screaming, grieving women, Folman goes on a mission to piece together the events he has completely blocked out from his memory.
The result is an animated documentary, with seven of the nigh interviewees in the film supplying their actual voices to their characters, drawn from 2300 illustrations that were turned into animation.
When dealing with such sensitive subject matter, other filmmakers not only shy away from animation, but not even consider it a viable option to get the messages of their films across. The animation however, not only enhances the film on a completely aesthetic level, but gets the message across loud and clear, more significantly than many documentaries who could have benefited from the use of illustrations. The animation only intensifies the deep issues more.
The imagery is stunning, ranging from a dream sequence in which one of Folman’s friends describes an out of body experience in which he clings on to a giant sea-foam colored woman to escape the ship he fears will be bombed, to the snowy hills of Holland, where he visits another soldier who was in the war with him in order to help him piece his memory back together.
The surrealist visuals shown through Folman’s own mind and those of his fellow soldiers clearly illustrates the trials and tribulations of young men living a sort of half-life, blindly following orders in a life without order of any kind.
The story is Folman’s personal experiences and follows what he went through from the moment he realized that there were major parts of his life missing from his memory, he said. In fact seven out of the nine interviewees in the film are the actual people who supplied their own voices to be featured in this animated documentary.
When the film ended, I found it very hard to get up from my seat. It was perhaps the only time I didn’t have the will to get up when the credits rolled. I was just frozen there in time, with Folman’s visions and experiences told through the most thought-provoking and amazing animation I had ever seen, in my head. It was days before I stopped thinking about. I’d say that’s the mark of a great film. “Waltz with Bashir” is beautifully animated, provocative and definitely a story that needed to be told, especially while the war in Iraq still exists. It might just leave a bigger impression on you than you thought, perhaps enough that you wont be able to leave the theatre.
Written and directed by Ari Folman; producers, Yael Nahlieli, Serge Lalou, Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul; art director and illustrator, David Polonsky; director of animation, Yoni Goodman; lead animators, Tal Godon and Gali Edelbaum; Artists, Michael Faust, Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, Ya’ara Buchman; original music, Max Richter. In collaboration with Noga Communications, The New Israeli Foundation for Cinema & T.V., Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Israel Film Fund. Running time: 87 min. Original language: Hebrew, with English and French subtitles.