Hot tickets: Waltz with Bashir

Even though I’ve seen plenty war films, animated movies, and more than a few documentaries, Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir came as a revelation. In the film, Folman, who was an Israeli soldier in the 1982 Lebanon war, interviews fellow fighters as a means of recovering his memory of what happened. Real interviews are interspersed with more dream-like dramatizations of historical events.

Animated films have traditionally served as a window on a fantastical world. In Waltz with Bashir, the fantastical world the film transports us to is the unreliable region of memory. Full of dark, stylized visuals, and also the ability to treat subject matter beyond its tradition’s familiar modes, Waltz with Bashir was like a kinetic graphic novel. Just when it seemed as though the stylization put me far enough away from the film’s core revelations to take them in at a safe remove, I felt as though the filmmaker pulled the rug out from under me.

Dream-like visuals find an unlikely complement in real interview footage. In its treatment of life on the battlefield, Waltz with Bashir shares much with war films like Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, or Platoon. With an eye on the absurdity of what it’s like to be a grunt, Folman’s film deftly portrays boredom and gallows humor punctuated by moments of genuine horror.

Treating such weighty historical material as an “animated documentary” is initially unsettling because it robs the film of its ability to document, a least photographically, its subject. A better term for Folman’s film might be a “filmed memoir.” In the way it turns fresh eyes on an old subject, and confronts head-on the confounding nature of memory, especially of traumatic events, I found that the film shared more with works of self-consciously artful nonfictionists from Dave Eggers to W.G. Sebald.

Ultimately, the film finds its real power in the way it keeps the audience guessing about notions of culpability and heroism. In one section, a former soldier tells the story of his being abandoned by his unit during battle. He’s haunted by feelings of cowardice and failure, but the film provides viewers with no clear-cut verdict on his actions, only the uneasy feeling that we might have reacted in the same way in his place. Later, Folman isn’t sure why he’s so fixated with a massacre that happened during the war. “Were your parents in the camps?” a friend asks. When Folman says yes, the friend says “You’ve been living with this massacre since you were six.”

“Films can be therapeutic,” someone says of Folman’s project early in the film. The finished film he’s offered goes a step further. Finding an idiosyncratic synthesis of elements from documentary, war film and graphic novel, it offers a transformative view of history and memory.

Tickets to Waltz with Bashir are still available:

Wed Oct 1: 9:15
Thu Oct 2: 6

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3 Comments on “Hot tickets: Waltz with Bashir”

  1. […] I wager you won’t see a more inventive film this year. It’s incredibly moving, too. See my review or buy tickets…[Wed Oct 1: 9:15] [Thu Oct 2: […]

  2. […] The latest issue of Film Comment sports the still gorgeous visage of Catherine Deneuve. Besides the cover story on Arnaud Desplechin, inside, you’ll find in-depth commentary on two of the most interesting films you’ll see all year (IMHO), Wendy and Lucy and Waltz with Bashir. […]

  3. […] Jia Zhang-ke, Hong Kong/China 521 7.    Paranoid Park Gus Van Sant, France/U.S. 465 8.    Waltz with Bashir Ari Folman, Israel/France/Germany 424 9.    My Winnipeg Guy Maddin, Canada 406 10.    Milk […]

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