Waltz with Bashir (2008) ואלס עם באשיר

Country: Israel
Language: Hebrew
Runtime: 86 minutes
Director: Ari Folman
Starring: Ari Folman

Theme: War

Ratings: IMDB: 8.0/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 96% | Metacritic: 91/100

Film Festivals:
2008 Cannes Film Festival
2008 Palic Film Festival
2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival
2008 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
2008 Tokyo Experimental Film Festival
2008 Warsaw International Film Festival
2010 Perspectives Film Festival (Singapore)

Awards:
2009 Golden Globe Award: Best Foreign Language Film
2009 National Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Film
2009 César Awards: Best Foreign Film (Meilleur film étranger)
2008 Asia Pacific Screen Award: Best Animated Feature Film
2008 British Independent Film Awards: Best Foreign Independent Film
2008 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Best Animation
2008 Israeli Film Academy Award: Best Art Direction/Director/Editing/Film/Screenplay

Nominated:
2008 Cannes Film Festival: Palme D’or
2009 Academy Awards: Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
2009 Annie Awards: Best Animated Feature, Best Director in an Animated Feature Production
2009 BAFTA Awards: Best Animated Film, Best Film not in the English Language

This critically-acclaimed film is an “extraordinary, harrowing, provocative” picture, in the words of The Guardian critic Xan Brooks. And that can hardly count as an understatement for its ingenious marriage of the otherwise polarized genres of war and animation. The premise is simple in this pseudo-documentary feature that has director Folman retrace his previously-forgotten encounters during the Lebanon War, stricken by false memories and mental blocks as his trauma affects his recollection of the events. Lines such as “Memory is alive and can be fabricated as holes get filled up with things that never happened” and “Maybe memoryc an take us to places where we don’t want to go” explain the otherwise implausibilities of faux memories. Indeed, a recurrent nightmare is that at 7:40 and 20:10, and then repeated numerous times throughout the movie as survivors of the war rise from the sea and walk butt naked towards the shore, and the city is full of people running for their lives. We get a glimpse of claustrophobia as the camera surrounds the protagonist, with piercing screams filling his ears. I cannot help but draw reference to Freudian theory in his incessant nightmares, a sign of repression of the trauma he faced during the war – and nakedness and nudity a sign of personal fraility in light of the situation. Such Freudian tendencies are also evident in the entirely explicit sex sequence at 49:21 that uninhibitedly shows an anal sex sequence.

Opting to interview a whole range of people such as his comrades-in-arms during the war and a psychologist (“dissociative events”) to get to the root of the matter, Folman creates an animated cartoon that is replete with dream sequences and a strong musical soundtrack in a film that is both entertaining and affective in spite of the heavy topic. The music soundtrack featuring tracks such as “Beirut” (based on “I Bombed Korea” performed by Cake), “This Is Not A Love Song” by PIL, a retro gaming music (14:32), “Good Morning Lebanon” (26:05) and Chopin’s “Waltz in C Sharp” provides a stunning supplement to the running commentary too.

The heavy topic of wartime atrocities aside, the movie has been accused of feeding propaganda because it paints the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in an overtly positive light. But that is hardly faultable. The 19-year-old Folman was a member of that movement and had braved thick and thin with the IDF fighting for its cause. However traumatizing or however wrong the world might have deemed it to be, I would think it is a greater blasphemy and mockery to take a stance against the movement he had lost much sweat, blood and tears in. Further, the movie is, aside from a documentary, a pseudo-autobiographical feature and as such should be as truthful to reality as possible. Unsurprisingly, however, the film was banned in Lebanon and most of Middle East due to lingering sensititivies over the war. The use of car bomb as a wartime technique at 48:18 can also be referenced to today’s method of convenience of terrorists.

The animated drawings feature crisp lines, but are imperfect, thus invoking a source of dissonance towards the pictures that are at once both gorgeous yet understatedly flawed. Shadows and silhouettes are a strong feature throughout the cinematography, creating a sense of shady business given the nature of war as soldiers prone and hide in the darkness.

The colors are vivid, and the beats strong as the animated feature begins with a pan that gives us an overview of the deserted city, following the motion of a bevy of dogs that leap toward the screen, and the camera follows their movement as they dash across the city, wrecking havoc along the way. The starting scenes set the tone as the sleek movement of the dogs is captured through reflections in mirrors by the road and puddles on the ground (1:47). Whether this is a metaphor for the IDF’s vicious Palestine opponents is  a personal opinion that is debatable, but I find it valid given the half-a-minute sequence of the dogs standing growling and howling at the foot of a building that houses the protagonist of the story. The references further appear at 4:00 with a tie-in of the dog as the soldiers are seen making a nighttime ambush. A dog dies, as viewed through the scope of a rifle at 5:02. Yet a stark irony remains as the scenes leading up to the massacre are atypically vivid, as an indication of dream sequences that are solely a figment of imagination vis-à-vis the drabness of reality.

We learn the whole story in the end. “You cannot remember the massacre because… unwilling you took on the role of the Nazi. You were there carrying out the flares, even though you didn’t take part directly in the massacre(1:13:40). The line, a direct reference to the Nazi wartime atrocities of World War II, in which they brainwash a team of loyal supporters through propaganda and a promise of a better future. The camera, unsentimental and unflinching in its portrayal of the injured, wounded an d deceased among the debris (1:16:08). The camera tracks in on the face of the protagonist as he stops dead in his tracks at 1:18:13, as diagetic sounds of bloodcurdling screams fill the air. We follow his gaze to an area behind the camera, when the image directly cuts away with actual news footage of the Palestine War. This direct contrast between animation techniques and reality creates a much more powerful message that the audience eventually takes away from the film. In fact, I was literally left in awe with the ending of the film – the sheer reality of it all inevitably emphasized and propped up through the use of animation techniques within the film. There are cutaways to several discrete shots of the deceased and wounded. The camera at 1:19:04 then cuts away into utter silence as the shrieks break away, leaving behind stony silence (which itself stands in stark contrast to the heavy musical influence throughout the movie thus far) and the threatening undertones of a lower bass that resonates in a climactic undertone in the final seconds of the movie, where the audience is left to reflect and marvel over what they just witnessed.