Posted tagged ‘waltz with bashir’

ND/NF: Using animation to reveal new truths, an interview with $9.99 director Tatia Rosenthal

March 26, 2009

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Director Tatia Rosenthal’s $9.99 issues a challenge to the audience: will viewers be prepared for a dramatic stop motion feature that holds its own against “live action”? Much as a drawing or painting reveals the inner character of a subject to a greater degree of precision of expression than might a photograph captured of the same setup, Rosenthal’s stop motion filmmaking offers audiences artistic and psychological depths not available via a live action treatment of the same material.

“It’s funny, it’s sad, and its made of silicon,” she says.

Over a number of acclaimed short films (watch: “Crazy Glue” and “A Buck’s Worth”) and now her debut feature, director Tatia Rosenthal has committed herself and her team to realizing the subjects of her films as people, rather than cartoons approximating people. She makes exhausting efforts as a filmmaker to document authentic behavior through her puppets, to capture the blemishes, asymmetry and awkwardness of actual life. And the results are staggeringly intimate and multivalent. Her film is itself peer to the creative achievement of Etgar Keret‘s highly acclaimed stories — the two-, three-page pocket-universes that are the source for the film’s script (developed and co-written with Keret).

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People not familiar with puppeteering often confuse the act with the metaphor, thinking of the medium in terms of people controlling puppets. (Throwing gas on this confusion: Being John Malkovich (1999)) Serious puppeteers, on the other hand, follow the puppet. Behavior arises from something in the form itself, similar to Michelangelo’s notion that a potential sculpture already exists in a block of marble.

Tatia Rosenthal: “Your puppet is not going to have the hundreds of muscles that people have to express themselves with. They have a jaw that can go up and down, an eyebrow that goes up and down, eyes that move, and that’s it. I think sometimes the instinct would be to perform the part with symbolic gesture. ‘Oh, I’m sad.’ or ‘Oh, I’m so happy.’ A physical sign language that becomes symbols for those emotions rather than the actual expressions of them, the opposite of the subtlety of acting. [And] it was important for us that we make a realistic film.”

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Rosenthal describes the making of stop motion animation — particularly under a condition of limited budget, tight schedule — as being itself an act of live performance. Even with years of development behind the script and months of pre-production, the logistics of stop motion requires shots to unfold in a linear progression, frame to frame. Days, even weeks, pass between “Action!” and “Cut.” Unlike computer animated or drawn animation, resetting the conditions of a shot in $9.99 to a previous position for a “re-shoot” can be next to impossible. Rosenthal faced unrelenting pressure as she committed herself and her team to bold risks over the course of an exhausting forty-week production period — an experience she doubts she could have survived without “the sheer discipline of dealing with so much stress for two years of army training.”

Talking about this process, she remembers the uncertainty of her daily work: “I picked all of the elements that felt right to me. But that is all you can do. You hope that it gels. But you never at any point have proof that it is all going to gel.”

Yet Rosenthal feels optimistic about the potential of audiences worldwide to engage her work: “We are entering the spring of emotionally subtle animation for grownups on the commercial stage. With Persepolis (2007), Waltz with Bashir (2008), and The Triplets of Belville (2003), it is all happening.”

-Matthew Griffin

Buy Tickets
Sun Mar 29: 7 (MoMA)
Wed Apr 1: 9 (FSLC)

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Snapshots: Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman

October 4, 2008

New York Film Festival Snapshots sponsored by:

Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman

Photo: Godlis

NYFF: What’s playing this week that can I still get tickets to?

September 30, 2008

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Photo: Susan Sermoneta

Trouble navigating the action-packed New York Film Festival schedule? Here are a few events that take place over the coming week that you can purchase tickets to online:

Waltz with Bashir: Documentary? Cartoon? War movie? 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: 6]

Free Oshima panel: Warm up for the screening of Art’s pick Diary of a Shinjuku Thief with a free panel discussion at the Walter Reade Theater on Wednesday, October 1st.

Summer Hours: Olivier Assayas returns with this this story of a family in turmoil. [Thu Oct 2: 9]

Four Nights with Anna: Time Out New York says: “Polish-cinema bigwig Jerzy Skolimowski is back, and this creepy tale about a man obsessed with his female neighbor proves that he can still unnerve.”  [Fri Oct 3: 9:30] [Sun Oct 5: 3]

Views from the Avant-Garde: Is the medium the message? Take a walk on the wild side with Guy Debord’s In girum… or check out rarely screened Bruce Conner rarities. The always provocative Views opens this weekend.

Ashes of Time Redux: What’s better than 93 action-packed minutes of Wong Kar-Wai’s unmistakably distinctive swordplay pyrotechnics? A completely restored version of one of his classics, of course. What’s even better? A midnight screening! [Sat Oct 4: midnight]

Hot tickets: Waltz with Bashir

September 19, 2008

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