One of the greatest achievements in documentary filmmaking and it is in the medium of animation.
Dir. Ari Folman
2009 | Israel | Documentary/Animation | 90 mins | 1.85:1 | Hebrew & Arabic
R21 (passed clean) for some disturbing images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity and a scene of graphic sexual content
Plot: An Israeli film director interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to reconstruct his own memories of his term of service in that conflict.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes). Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Oscars)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Subject Matter: Heavy
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at Perspectives Film Festival ’10. For the full published essay, please visit: https://eternalitytan.com/2019/01/01/waltz-with-bashir-an-inquiry-into-reality/)
Waltz with Bashir is such a unique motion picture because it is fundamentally an autobiographical war documentary but dressed in the wonder and limitless creativity of animation. The story follows an Israeli filmmaker in his quest to piece together the puzzle that is the 1982 Lebanon War which he took part in but could not remember what really happened.
In my opinion, director Ari Folman’s decision to create Waltz with Bashir in animation is a masterstroke. Rarely do we get to view documentaries in an animated form which brings to mind a question: Since documentaries are presumably truthful accounts of reality, and animated features fictional, then is an animated documentary, in the theoretical sense, even possible?
Waltz with Bashir has many segments in which Folman, as an animated figure, interviews war veterans – many of them his close comrades – seeking out their past experiences and hoping what they say would be able to trigger and unlock his memory. The footage is caught in real-time and then edited to form a coherent narrative.
“Do you ever have flashbacks from Lebanon?”
The use of animation runs parallel to Folman’s theme of being unable to remember the past, or what I term as ‘amnesic memory’. Folman’s inability to remember his experience from the Lebanon War is reflected in the fiction that is animation.
In one scene, he is led away to safety by a huge, nude sea goddess as his comrades burn to death after their boat is attacked by a stray enemy airplane. Could this have happened?
However, in Waltz with Bashir, it is not about finding the absolute truth within differing, separate points-of-view but rather questioning how close the recollections are to the objective truth so that we are able to respectfully (and possibly truthfully) preserve the sanctity of those memories – to remember history as it is, and for what it is worth.
Waltz with Bashir is a somewhat futile pursuit for the objective truth, but it makes us ponder about truth as reality. What really happened continues to be vague; yet whatever did happened, and of which is caused by the insanity of war, has brought about the reality of human suffering and this is captured excellently in the film. There is truth in human suffering which is something we can feel and understand.
This was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
However, there is no considerable truth in memories where the line between reality and fantasy is very often blurred. Human suffering then becomes the key theme of Folman’s film not only because it is a concrete representation of ‘truth as reality’, but also it acts as a spur towards the quest for the absolute truth i.e. what really did happened.
The cinematic power of Waltz with Bashir cannot be disputed; Folman’s masterpiece will continue to grow in resonance and relevance with the passing of time.