Like Persepolis before it, Waltz With Bashir uses animation to give an objectifying distance from the subject, giving fresh scope to the the Middle East crisis that has been so amply covered.
Folman makes himself and his experience of the war as the focus, as he reflects on what he went through. Initially, a friend of Ari confesses to having nightmares, ones which he feels are directly linked to his actions while serving in the Lebanon.
Previously untroubled by the past, Ari finds that his friend’s admission makes him realise how he has buried the trauma to the extent that he has no memory of large stretches of his time in service, with him particularly bothered by how he has no clear memory of the part he played during the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, when Lebanese civilians were slaughtered as part of a revenge attack. Ill at ease with the void, Ari tracks down his former colleagues in a bid to piece together what happened.
Also in keeping with Persepolis, Waltz gives a more human than historical account, concerned more with a person’s interaction with events than the events themselves. Much of what takes place is horrific, but it’s the subjective nature of recollection that shapes the delivery.
What Waltz With Bashir does is analyse how the brain rationalises and deals with such an overload of the grotesque, how our innate coping mechanism compartmentalises things so we have the strength to carry on. With its strong colour palette and highly stylised animation, which has the feel of drawn-over live footage, the war takes on a fantastical, dreamlike quality, almost as if such atrocities couldn’t be real.
As Ari assembles the sad truth of what he actually did in the Lebanon, the calm reminiscences of it over booze and fags adds a weirdly restful quality, visually backed up by the sequence that gives the film its name, as a soldier seemingly gracefully dancing around a busy crossing with a machine gun, taking out snipers.
Though dreamlike, Folman the director doesn’t seek to escape from the reality of what happened at Sabra and Shatila, he takes the truth as it comes, offering no excuses - he’s well aware of how inexcusable the whole thing was. As he moves away from the fantastical towards the painful truth, so the animation gives way to news footage, hammering home the enormity of what his memory has been protecting him from.
Brave, innovative and compelling, Waltz With Bashir is the kind that film that needs to be made - using the medium to challenge and expand what we know and accept about our world, while never losing sight of film’s now-key part of the human experience, be it as education or entertainment. Or something.
Starring: Ari Folman
Directed by: Ari Folman
Extras: trailers, director interview