Waltz With Bashir

Ari Folman, the Israeli director and animator, was a member of his country’s army during one of its darker periods.  He served during the Lebanon war of the early 1980’s, when Israeli forces aided their Lebanese Christian allies in massacring hundreds, if not thousands of Palestinians living in the Sabra and Shatila Refugee camps. Yet surprisingly, the event was not imprinted in Folman’s memory; he got out of the army and went on with his professional life without really giving his experience in Lebanon much thought.  Then, more than twenty years removed from his military service, he began having a recurring flashback to the day of the killings.  The memory was particularly haunting because it was the only thing about the Lebanon war Folman could remember; besides it, his recollections on the experience were completely blank.  Jarred by the idea that he could forget most of what happened in such a significant event, Folman began interviewing some of his old comrades, as well as a couple of mental health experts, with the hope of jogging his own recollections.  He describes this process in his most recent film Waltz With Bashir (2008).

Documentary, in the sense of its standard definition, is not an accurate label for Bashir.  In a number of ways, Folman uses the film to challenge the general idea of what a non-fiction feature should look like.  Such rebellion comes most forcefully in the director’s almost exclusive use of animation.  Aside from a few shots at Bashir’s end, all of its scenes originated on a cartoonists’ drawing board.  This structure allows the Folman to frequently defy chemistry by manipulating the natural color of objects.  Many times in Bashir, the Lebanon portrayed becomes a gloomy mixture of unsettling blacks, blues, yellows, and grays, providing the viewer with an often psychedelic experience.

Along with these technical feats, Folman also uses Bashir to prove his is a gifted narrator.  Following a multi-layered narrative-covering both the war experience and psychology of memory- the film tracks an animated Folman as he travels from interview to interview.  This decision, on the part of the director, to include himself as an on-screen character gives Bashir a sense of fluidity- usually only found in fiction, and Folman’s active presence further provides chances for his role as interviewer to be reversed.  The ex-soldiers and mental health experts he talks with often ask him questions- allowing genuine dialogue to take place.

This type of thoughtful conversation, along with Bashir’s stunning animation, makes the film well worth watching.

Nathan Walker



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