Waltz With Bashir

Waltz With Bashir

***

We in the United States are powerful and isolated enough to avoid warfare when we want to. Most of the conflicts of the past 50 years were due to the Military Industrial Complex’s desire to flex its muscles as opposed to actual national security crises.

Israel’s situation is very different. Due to its miniscule size and close proximity to more populous enemy states, warfare is perpetual and inevitable.

In this cauldron of constant conflict, “Waltz With Bashir” was formed.

Writer/director/producer Ari Folman plays himself: an Israeli filmmaker who fought in the 1982 Lebanon invasion and evidently witnessed a massacre of Palestinian civilians. However, Folman cannot remember the event. He can hardly remember anything about his war experience.

So the filmmaker decides to track down the guys he served with to see if their war stories can jog his damaged memory.

“Waltz With Bashir” is definitely different than your average war movie. Folman is not so much interested in war itself, but rather the tricks that it plays on the human mind. And, more importantly, the tricks that the brain plays on itself in order to get through traumatic experiences.

“Waltz With Bashir” also stands out because it is animated. I imagine that the decision to produce the film as a cartoon was probably a practical one. It would have been challenging both emotionally and financially to shoot all of the destructive and chaotic battle sequences with live actors.

But Folman takes full advantage of the medium. “Waltz With Bashir” features a distinctive animation style that I have never seen before.

The characters are animated with extreme detail and realism, especially in their faces and eyes, in order to reveal a maximum amount of emotion. In contrast, the outside world is like a massive grey maze, which makes the battle scenes feel like confusing dream sequences.

“Waltz With Bashir” is a difficult film, both because the content is so violent and depressing and because Folman largely refuses to clarify which events in the picture actually happened or how he truly feels about them.

About the only thing Folman tells us for sure is that the massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian Lebanese militiamen was an abominable act of genocide and that the Israeli military should have acted faster to stop it.

It’s a disappointing ending. For starters, it doesn’t take a lot of insight or guts to condemn genocide.

Plus, Folman spends almost the entire movie showing us that the frailty of human memory ensures that no one really knows how things happen in wartime or who is to blame. To conclude the story by definitively blaming people for an event (particularly people who neither pulled the trigger nor even ordered it) is really odd.

“Waltz With Bashir” is ambitious and engrossing. It is dazzling to look at and it has a cool soundtrack. However, the film doesn’t really come together intellectually so I can’t recommend it too strongly.

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