Monday, 7 March 2016

Film Review: Waltz With Bashir

Figure 1: Theatrical poster (Ebert, 2009)
  • Director: Ari Folman
  • Native Title: Vals Im Bashir
  • Primary Language: Hebrew
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of Release: 2008
  • Budget: est. $1,500,000
  • Film Length: 90 minutes
  • Production Company: Bridgit Folman Film Gang
  Waltz With Bashir (Vals Im Bashir) is a 2008 Israeli animated film that investigates key events of the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon war. Ari Folman, the director, interviews former friends of his in the Israeli Defense Force, trying to piece together and understand a recurring dream that appeared soon after talking to a friend with a similar issue tied to his experiences in the war. Over the course of the film, Ari remensices with friends and comes to understand their experiences of life in the war and in the Israeli Army. Through the recollections he recalls the horrors of the war and learns of the desperate things some of his comrades did to survive.

Figure 2: The thick, heavy graphic style allows the film to explore the surreal that's as real and vivid as the characters experiencing them. (MovieMano, 2010) 
  The film is visually presented much like a graphic novel, with thick bold lines and colourful illustration of the events going on. Could this have been achieved with live-action footage? "Folman is an Israeli documentarian who has not worked in animation. Now he uses it as the best way to reconstruct memories, fantasies, hallucinations, possibilities, past and present. This film would be nearly impossible to make any other way." (Ebert, 2009). There is a particular scene for instance, where one of Folman's comrades hallucinates being carried in the arms of a gigantic blue woman. This might have been difficult to pull off believably with practical effects or even a live-action/CGI combination but it's not the only example. As discussed with Paprika, animation can lend a narrative quality that is much more difficult to suspend disbelief with using real footage. "The whole movie seems like an acid trip - an Alice in Wonderlandish dream for a post-9/11 world where war is a constant - and that's the beauty of "Waltz With Bashir." Folman's work allows the audience to enter a kind of forbidden zone where the characters' fantasies seem as realistic as the deadly bullets they faced. " (Curiel, 2009). In effect the storybook feel doesn't detract from the events being told. One soldier late in the film talks about deciding to exchange his LMG for an assault rifle, only to find it just doesn't feel right when he uses it. The way the film portrays this discomfort is by portraying him trying to handle a tiny assault rifle, a toy compared both to what he's used to, and everyone else's weapons.

Figure 3: Dancing under Bashir. Did this soldier go nuts, or was this a subjective exaggeration to highlight his skill? (filmWalrus, 2014)
  Thus, one of the key elements of the story is the use of metaphor, which might udnermine the idea this is a documentary. "Objective truth, while the overt impetus of documentary, proves not only fallacious but less interesting than the subjective, visceral truths elicited from an imaginative retelling. Reality, we find, is only intelligible through imagination." (Adams, 2009). Ari's recurring dream has his comrades emerge from the Black Sea outside Beirut, march to the shore under a sky lit with flares, dress in IDF fatigues, pick up guns and pass a street filled with hundreds of weeping women. Like many a dream interpretation, this is filled with meaning that becomes apparent later on. When one interviewee talks about how he saw the popularity of Lebanese president  Bashir Geyamel, we see streets filled with people wearing crosses, Bashir t-shirts, vans adorned with posters of Bashir, the imagery is highly reminsicent of periods such as Beatlemania which manages to reinforce in the space of 20 seconds just how passionate the peopel were. It may be an exaggeration, but it fits the tone of the film, which is driven by perspective. Immediately after the prior-mentioned scene where a soldier laments unfamiliarity with something smaller than an LMG, he takes one a companion is using and proceeds to dance in the middle of the street, firing the weapon off. In a real situation, he could have easily died, but this waltz under a poster of president Bashir (the film's namesake) could be a metaphor for how fluidly the soldier moved his aim between targets as he fired the machine-gun at entrenched Lebanese soldiers.

Figure 4: At the end the graphic style mixes with what becomes real, documented footage. (Rigmored, 2010)
  What is haunting is that not all of the film is animated. ""Waltz With Bashir” has attracted a lot of attention and a measure of controversy, some of it surrounding the very last moments of the film, in which the animation stops and the audience is confronted with graphic, horrifying images of real dead bodies." (Scott, 2008). Was this a bad decision? Controversial? Or perhaps it hammered home just how true these events were. It nailed to viewers unaware of the 1982 Lebanon war that this atrocity actually happened. But there might be a deeper message - the lack of landmarks in this final footage of women weeping among mountains of rubble suggest that this could have happened almost anywhere, especially poignant in a time where the Middle-East is garnering a reputation as a part of the world that knows only war; where innocent deaths, young men called to war and ruined cities are a fact of life.

  Waltz With Bashir is an artistically brilliant, hard hitting animated documentary that opens eyes and tugs at hearts. It conveys well that the soldiers on the have a different understanding of war than generals and historians, a reconstruction peppered with surreal imagery and all taking full advantage of animation's ability to tell a story figuratively while not cheapening the real-world events it might be describing with imagery so outrageous you forget its about a real tragedy. In this repsect, Waltz with Bashir does well in telling a tale its own way but keeping interest, while exploring both inner  thoughts and outer experiences.


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