Tuesday, September 1, 2009

DVD Review: Waltz With Bashir

The Israeli animated feature Waltz with Bashir is a war movie that resists easy categorization. Writer-director Ari Folman, who served in the Israeli army, examines the traumatic aftermath of the 1982 Lebanese War where Palestinians, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, were massacred by Lebanon’s Christian Phalangist militia. Although the Israeli command were not directly responsible for the killings, they provided cover for the Phalangists to attack. The murders were perpetrated following the assassination of Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel.

Waltz with Bashir doesn’t delve into the political dynamics of the war, but it does something more distinct. Like the recent Iraq War film, The Hurt Locker, Waltz With Bashir takes us into the harrowing psychological impact of warfare where, within the tormented and vacant memories of Israeli soldiers, we discover that they haven’t been quite the same since they abetted those horrors two decades earlier. His choice to make this an animated film is something of a bold stroke of genius. The realism of war often inspires nightmares in the participant who wishes to escape its dark memories. Waltz With Bashir is an embodiment of imagined and real war stories that dare the viewer to tell the difference.

Folman goes beneath the reported facts and details into the varied experiences of young soldiers still trying to sort out memory from nightmare. Although his use of animation is somewhat suggestive of pictures like Persepolis, this film isn’t quite so stylistically self-conscious. The sickly, halluncinatory images in Bashir unfold out of Folman’s own growing awareness of his personal participation in the bloody war’s aftermath. Besides being a boldly original memoir, Waltz with Bashir is an evocative, compelling picture that searches for truth just as passionately as it yearns for it.

View the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylzO9vbEpPg


  1. It's interesting to note that this film was pitched a few years ago for funding and international support at the Toronto Documentary Forum -- a juried event for works-in-progress for mainly traditional point-of-view cinema verite documentaries. My take on the reaction of observers at the pitch was that most were moved and compelled by the footage and the verbal pitch by the team (director/producer and supporting broadcaster). At the same time some questioned the presence of this particular project at a documentary forum given that the story was being told via animation. I find that the blend of documentary and fiction elements in the case of the finished film invites some thought about definitions of both genres. I agee that this film is pretty powerful stuff.

  2. I thought it was a brilliant film, Kevin, and am glad to see your positive comments here. The animation did give it a hallucinatory quality, which I think is quite appropriate given the filmmaker's experience of his memories - and lack thereof. Some people criticized the shift into documentary footage at the end, but I thought it packed a walloping punch - as it should!