Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

[Ari] Folman's "Waltz With Bashir" is a remarkable, haunting and intense work, quite unlike any animated film I've ever seen. Hand drawn in a crude, colorful underground-comics style, it captures Folman's struggle to recapture his lost memories of what he saw and what he did during Israel's ill-fated 1980s war in Lebanon, when he was a young draftee. Folman says that for many years he had no clear memories of his time in Lebanon, although he knew he had seen combat and that he had witnessed the Sabra and Shatila massacres of September 1982, when pro-Israeli Lebanese Christian militiamen carried out a near-genocidal campaign of murder in two Palestinian refugee camps.

While trying to work his way out of a severe depression, Folman contacted many of his former military comrades, along with a psychiatrist friend and a neurologist who specializes in memory impairment. The film combines pieces of these interviews with fragmentary episodes drawn from these men's memories, dreams and perhaps fantasies, all of them (until the utterly devastating last scenes) delivered in the same animation style. At least in part, the subject of "Waltz With Bashir" -- the title refers to Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel, whose assassination inflamed Lebanese Christians to widespread anti-Muslim violence -- is the unreliable and fantastic quality of memory itself. One friend's dream about being pursued by a pack of wild dogs seems just as real or unreal as another's eerie memory of a firefight in a remote orchard against a shadowy opponent -- a boy of 11 or 12, who blows up an Israeli tank with an RPG before being killed himself. (Folman was involved in this battle, but apparently still cannot remember it.)

Oddly, the adventure-comics presentation of Folman's memory excavation lends it less rather than more power. (As he has said, the alternative was to shoot a bunch of middle-aged men talking.) His resurrected war stories really are exciting adventures, but also terrible, nightmarish and finally pointless ones. Dredging up these dreadful memories may have been therapeutic for the men involved, but the point of "Waltz With Bashir" is bigger than that. It's a provocative, strange and arresting film, whose unusual blend of style and substance should reach a large worldwide audience.

Source: Salon