Waltz with Bashir (18)

Film

Animation

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5

User ratings:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>5</span>/5
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Time Out says

Wed Oct 1 2008

‘Memory is dynamic… It’s alive.’ This animated documentary, for which Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman ’s wizard colleague, the artist David Polonsky, dazzlingly illustrates talking-head recollections and reconstructions of a past war, comes across like a therapy session made vivid with bizarre, expressionist colours and the jolty, episodic mood of remembrance.

The film is a cathartic trip down memory lane for Folman – only he doesn’t know where he’s going. As a young soldier, he took part in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and was in Beirut when the Lebanese Christian militia known as Phalangists murdered 800 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps – perhaps with the approval of the Israeli army. It was a massacre that caused Ariel Sharon, Israel’s defence minister, to resign from his post when an inquiry found him indirectly responsible for the deaths.

Then and now, Folman puts himself centre-stage – which means he’s always dancing on the edge of self-indulgence. It’s a game that neatly frames a ramshackle tale but also grates the more it’s emphasised. Now in his forties, this urbane, bearded character visits other lucid contemporaries to hear their versions of the experience they shared. There’s a guy living in Holland who’s made a fortune selling falafel. There’s the war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai, who marched gung-ho, John Simpson-like into Beirut. There’s a guy whose talk is oddly associative: he talks of the patchouli scent, a sort of aftershave, that everyone was wearing at the time of the war. For him, like Folman’s inability to remember much at all, it’s the lasting gift of the conflict.

Presumably Folman filmed all these interviews, later animating them with the events of which each interviewee speaks, so blurring the line between fact and fiction and stressing the power and failings of memory. But take away the unusual form of illustration and the model is that of a traditional, flashback-driven, dramatised doc. In fact, the animation is the film’s strength: it’s revelatory, from the portrayal of dreamy, gold-and-black-coloured episodes of soldiers bathing in the sea with distant flares lighting up Beirut to more realist depictions of death such as when a soldier driving a tank suddenly takes a fatal bullet.

It’s this sort of erratic, ground-level experience that Folman focuses on the most; even the facts of the massacre take a back seat. He wants to show war as ridiculous, and his concern for the horrors and absurdities of battle feels fresh and affecting.

And yet, despite the grim subject, this is a beautiful film. A paradox? Only if you expect coherence – and ‘Waltz with Bashir’ is anything but coherent, and pointedly so. It’s recollection refracted – and then some. It’s messy and unusual, not always gratifying, sometimes frustrating, always compelling.

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Release details

Rated:

18

UK release:

Fri Nov 21, 2008

Duration:

87 mins

Cast and crew

Voices:

Boaz Rein Buskila, Ori Sivan

Music:

Max Richter

Director:

Ari Folman

Screenwriter:

Ari Folman

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Technoguy

The individual comrades(20 years on) asked to divulge their memories of the invasion of Lebanon 20 years before with particular regard to where people were or what they remembered about the Shabra and Shantilla massacre to Ari Folman who has memory block, is an exercise aided by his psychologist friend Ori and a psychiatrist. The nation of Israel has suppressed memories of a terrible event to survive and has to collectively face it’s demons. Boaz has a nightmare of being chased by a pack of rabid dogs, the26 he killed to aid the invasion of villages. Folman the writer-director of this memoir has through interview and newsreel footage translated by story board into the graphic animation, Waltz with Bashir. This is a kind of subjective documentary based on reconstruction, Rashomon-like into painful memories buried beneath hallucinations, nightmares, illusions, fear and guilt. Did the massacre never happen? Happy memories of crossing the border into beautiful scenery and singing are mixed with painful traumas of transporting bodies back to base camp. Cami’s defence mechanism was to rest on a giant naked woman swimming in his dream of macho sexuality. Folman’s recurring hallucination is swimming ashore with two other soldiers in Lebanon, the sky a sulphurous yellow, suggesting some buried unnamed guilt. The safety Ronny feels in a tank is offset by seeing his commander killed beside him and the explosion followed by the men’s escape from the tank, running across sniper-filled open ground, everybody being killed apart from himself, who crawls to the sea at nightfall and swims south, where he rejoins the regiment that deserted him. Shmuel Frenkel , once a corporal, tells how patchouli oil he used helped his men in the dark. He recalls their search for terrorists in sun-dappled woodlands and the boy with an RPG. Through dissociation of sensibility some men see war through an imaginary camera as a daytrip, becoming traumatised when the ‘camera’ breaks. As they enter Beirut the army gets pinned down by rapid fire from tower blocks and RPGs. Frenkel seizes a MAG gun and dances around in a trance beneath posters of Bashir shooting wildly. The slaughter camp is 200 yards away and Cami thinks that seeing Bashir posters everywhere and him idolised like the man who would be king, only for him to be murdered , is like an LSD trip. Folman’s deep-rooted obsession to find out what really happened stems from his knowledge through his parents of the Holocaust and those ‘other camps’. Ron Ben-Yisha the journalist picks up from a corporal that a massacre is going on, not something he’s witnessed himself only heard from others. Similar stories are picked up by soldiers who witness some killings of families, who report what they can to corporals who reply� it’s under control�. Sharon too, when informed takes it phlegmatically. The command betray an element of collusion that the simple grunts like Folman and comrades don’t understand until it’s too late. While guarding the camps the IDF have given cover to the Christian Phalangist Militia to enter the camps and ‘purge’ it of PLO men. These elements had been vacated 2 weeks before. Settlements are reduced to rubble and mass killings of women, children, old people and young men, all civilians, has occurred to avenge the death of Gemayel Bashir. This animation is done in the spirit of Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse 5 with the graphic novels of Succo in mind. Due to post-traumatic stress we don’t get to the massacre itself until last when even the animation is peeled away to reveal objective truth. This gives the reality a supercharged quality no animation can convey. The only criticism is that the Palestinians remain a shadowy unindividuated mass, alive in death. But with Persepolis too we see the new form of documentary animation arise.

Technoguy

The individual comrades(20 years on) asked to divulge their memories of the invasion of Lebanon 20 years before with particular regard to where people were or what they remembered about the Shabra and Shantilla massacre to Ari Folman who has memory block, is an exercise aided by his psychologist friend Ori and a psychiatrist. The nation of Israel has suppressed memories of a terrible event to survive and has to collectively face it’s demons. Boaz has a nightmare of being chased by a pack of rabid dogs, the26 he killed to aid the invasion of villages. Folman the writer-director of this memoir has through interview and newsreel footage translated by story board into the graphic animation, Waltz with Bashir. This is a kind of subjective documentary based on reconstruction, Rashomon-like into painful memories buried beneath hallucinations, nightmares, illusions, fear and guilt. Did the massacre never happen? Happy memories of crossing the border into beautiful scenery and singing are mixed with painful traumas of transporting bodies back to base camp. Cami’s defence mechanism was to rest on a giant naked woman swimming in his dream of macho sexuality. Folman’s recurring hallucination is swimming ashore with two other soldiers in Lebanon, the sky a sulphurous yellow, suggesting some buried unnamed guilt. The safety Ronny feels in a tank is offset by seeing his commander killed beside him and the explosion followed by the men’s escape from the tank, running across sniper-filled open ground, everybody being killed apart from himself, who crawls to the sea at nightfall and swims south, where he rejoins the regiment that deserted him. Shmuel Frenkel , once a corporal, tells how patchouli oil he used helped his men in the dark. He recalls their search for terrorists in sun-dappled woodlands and the boy with an RPG. Through dissociation of sensibility some men see war through an imaginary camera as a daytrip, becoming traumatised when the ‘camera’ breaks. As they enter Beirut the army gets pinned down by rapid fire from tower blocks and RPGs. Frenkel seizes a MAG gun and dances around in a trance beneath posters of Bashir shooting wildly. The slaughter camp is 200 yards away and Cami thinks that seeing Bashir posters everywhere and him idolised like the man who would be king, only for him to be murdered , is like an LSD trip. Folman’s deep-rooted obsession to find out what really happened stems from his knowledge through his parents of the Holocaust and those ‘other camps’. Ron Ben-Yisha the journalist picks up from a corporal that a massacre is going on, not something he’s witnessed himself only heard from others. Similar stories are picked up by soldiers who witness some killings of families, who report what they can to corporals who reply� it’s under control�. Sharon too, when informed takes it phlegmatically. The command betray an element of collusion that the simple grunts like Folman and comrades don’t understand until it’s too late. While guarding the camps the IDF have given cover to the Christian Phalangist Militia to enter the camps and ‘purge’ it of PLO men. These elements had been vacated 2 weeks before. Settlements are reduced to rubble and mass killings of women, children, old people and young men, all civilians, has occurred to avenge the death of Gemayel Bashir. This animation is done in the spirit of Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse 5 with the graphic novels of Succo in mind. Due to post-traumatic stress we don’t get to the massacre itself until last when even the animation is peeled away to reveal objective truth. This gives the reality a supercharged quality no animation can convey. The only criticism is that the Palestinians remain a shadowy unindividuated mass, alive in death. But with Persepolis too we see the new form of documentary animation arise.

John

Absolutely incredible film. Portrays the topic with sensitivity and insight without making a blunt judgement. The soundtrack by Max Richter is also beautiful.

John

Absolutely incredible film. Portrays the topic with sensitivity and insight without making a blunt judgement. The soundtrack by Max Richter is also beautiful.

Artemis G.

A riveting insight into the mind of an unwitting executioner plagued by selective amnesia. The overkill of blood-splattered war dramas has probably made many viewers practically nonreactive to scenes of ghastly destruction; here, however, the unlikely choice of medium - animation - cleverly grips the attention of even seasoned war-film viewers. At the same time, the choice of animation embodies (or rather illustrates) the director's subconscious detachment from the harrowing experience of fighting in Lebanon. The decision to conclude the film with actual newsreels footage suggests that his trip into memory brought him near reality, eliminating that sense of cognitive distance. Having said that, this autobiographical documentary treads carefully around the ethical questions its director is troubled by: political opinions are never aired, war is never critisised, and the plight of the Palestinians is viewed at best from the distance of newsreels - the director hasn't dared face his subject through his own lens. Watching the film I often felt as though I were eavesdropping on an analysand talking to his therapist, and the focus, as in real-life psychotherapy, was on the subject, the 'me', the 'ego'. An original, candid, and compelling confession, which nevertheless to my mind does not achieve closure.

Artemis G.

A riveting insight into the mind of an unwitting executioner plagued by selective amnesia. The overkill of blood-splattered war dramas has probably made many viewers practically nonreactive to scenes of ghastly destruction; here, however, the unlikely choice of medium - animation - cleverly grips the attention of even seasoned war-film viewers. At the same time, the choice of animation embodies (or rather illustrates) the director's subconscious detachment from the harrowing experience of fighting in Lebanon. The decision to conclude the film with actual newsreels footage suggests that his trip into memory brought him near reality, eliminating that sense of cognitive distance. Having said that, this autobiographical documentary treads carefully around the ethical questions its director is troubled by: political opinions are never aired, war is never critisised, and the plight of the Palestinians is viewed at best from the distance of newsreels - the director hasn't dared face his subject through his own lens. Watching the film I often felt as though I were eavesdropping on an analysand talking to his therapist, and the focus, as in real-life psychotherapy, was on the subject, the 'me', the 'ego'. An original, candid, and compelling confession, which nevertheless to my mind does not achieve closure.

Jonathan

Mesmerizing, an unforgettable meditation on the horrors of war and the nature of memory.

Jonathan

Mesmerizing, an unforgettable meditation on the horrors of war and the nature of memory.

robnyc33

definately on of the best movies of the year and it deserves the Golden Globe Nomination! Stunning! Impressive!

robnyc33

definately on of the best movies of the year and it deserves the Golden Globe Nomination! Stunning! Impressive!

Chris Beney

The animation is terrific, the dogs, the sea. It would have been absurd for middle aged men to be remembering by re-enacting. But by filming them and then rejuvenating them by animation it became real. The short but relevant bit of porn could have been shorter without loss, maybe that's just me. The blending in of real footage at the end was seamless and wholly effective. History rewrites facts but the guilt in broad terms was clear, I would have liked some reference to formal inquiries and their findings, but that might have spoiled the overall flow of the film and the personal and human nature of its story. Do not miss seeing it.

Chris Beney

The animation is terrific, the dogs, the sea. It would have been absurd for middle aged men to be remembering by re-enacting. But by filming them and then rejuvenating them by animation it became real. The short but relevant bit of porn could have been shorter without loss, maybe that's just me. The blending in of real footage at the end was seamless and wholly effective. History rewrites facts but the guilt in broad terms was clear, I would have liked some reference to formal inquiries and their findings, but that might have spoiled the overall flow of the film and the personal and human nature of its story. Do not miss seeing it.