Even if you don’t like documentaries, even if you don’t like animated films, even if you don’t like war films, you should consider going to see this thing people. I’m a backer of this movie, yeah, and I’m about to tell you why so listen up, and don’t stop until you get to the end.
First of all it’s original. It’s different from any other documentary you’ve probably ever seen, different from any other animated film you’ve ever seen, and different from any other war film you’ve ever seen.But it’s all of those things. Think about that for a second. Director Ari Folman has packed enough genre bending inventiveness into Waltz With Bashir that it sort of defies labels.
The film won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film, and it was been nominated for an Oscar too for the same category. Even though it lost for the Oscar, it won’t change the fact that it’s a film that you can’t put neatly into a little box, a genre, or a short description from me. For that reason alone it’s probably worth your time.
But you might need another reason to go see this film so here goes. The second reason I like this film is the fact that the images are stunning. I could try to tell you how the guy did it, but I wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll just take you to your own little sneak preview of sorts. You step inside the darkened theater and sit down. Beneath the flickering light, you can see that most of the seats are empty. And ain’t it a shame. Well let’s see. Up on the screen, a pack of animated dogs race and snarl their way through a faraway city. A little boy fires a rocket launcher right at you. Soldiers float naked in a black sea, beneath explosions in the night sky. A flare lights up an entire city of vacant, bullet riddled, high-rise buildings. A crazed soldier dances under a hail of bullets, untouched. A tank charges through the night, scattering a blaze of gunfire nonstop like a giant, shuddering, firefly. A gigantic sea goddess scoops up a soldier and whisks him safely across the ocean. Men, women, and children lie dead, piled atop one another on blood stained concrete and dirt.
All of this stuff is animated, and some of it no less shocking somehow, right up until the end. All of it seems to come across as both real and surreal at the same time. The whole genre bending quality is actually ingrained in the images, and you’ve got to sort of marvel at their beauty and at the same time try to figure out what really happened and what is just imagined. And that brings me to my next point folks.
The third reason I like this film is all the mystery. So what the hell do I mean by that? Well the director of the film, Ari Folman, is also the main character throughout. All the mystery stems from the fact that he fought in a war and can’t seem to remember anything that happened. Namely he can’t seem to remember what part he played in the 1982 Massacre at Shabra and Shatila. The Massacre took place in Beirut, where Israeli soldiers created a refugee camp for Palestinians. As an Israeli soldier, Folman played a part, but somehow has blocked it all out of his memory. He seeks out the friends he has that were there with him, and asks them to share their stories of what really happened. In dark bars, in foreign countries, he meets up with them and tries to find a way to speak with them about the unspeakable. The problem is that when all is said and done, everyone seems to have experienced a very personal version of the events, and none of the stories seem to line up. The mystery only deepens when Folman begins to actually remember some of the events from his own experience.
Questions form the core of the narrative, and even in providing an attempt at some final answers Folman provides more questions. Did he lose his memory through the trauma of war, by choice, or for the sake of the narrative? If we can question his motivations, can we question the answers he provides for us in the end? Whatever you decide about the film, going on the journey with Folman and company makes for some fascinating food for thought. For it’s originality, it’s stunning imagery, and its mysterious ways, Waltz With Bashir is one of the best films of 2008 in my book. As of this writing it’s still in theaters, but I’d move fast on this one, as it’s worth seeing on a big screen.
-Doug Mc Bride