Waltz with Bashir (2008)


Vals im Bashir

Israel; Ari Folman

Mature Audience – Strong Violence; Sexual Content; Disturbing Images

Blending documentary with animation, Waltz with Bashir evokes the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon in retaliation to PLO’s aggressive provocations, which spiraled down into a guerilla war and a political “cul-de-sac”. In the wasteland of Lebanon or in the concrete jungle of Beirut, a nation that always lived with a siege mentality came to the heart of darkness, learning the moral price to pay for its attempt to “tame” an explosive ethnical and cultural turmoil. Though Israel ceased to be a “baby state” long ago, from the very first days of its tumultuous existence, it is in Lebanon, in September 1982, at the gates of the camps of Sabra and Shatila that the Jewish country lost once for all its innocence. 

Folman delivers a striking, autobiographic anti-war movie deeply rooted into documentary as it is essentially composed of a collection of individual stories told by Israeli Lebanon War veterans, all of them framed by the protagonist’s quest for answers. None of them, least of all the director’s filmic avatar uneasily conducting the enquiry, sees the big picture. But as the movie progresses, at its slow, fractured pace towards its harrowing conclusion, a crescendo of emotional panic give these disparate war anecdotes a whole new dimension.

The visual style is undoubtedly unique, taking animation to a new level. The color palette is rich, almost lavish and crepuscular at times, creating an intoxicating alter-reality. This animated world can be spellbinding, but the aesthetic trance is brutally cut off when Folman resorts to a final reel of a gut-wrenching non-animated, non-staged news footage – as if the medium failed to render the horror and art eventually surrenders to the unflinching reality.

Despite all that, the graphics are not flawless. Its shortcomings are more obvious in the drawing of characters, which occasionally feel a little bit flat, one-dimensional. Moreover, at the level of the narrative structure, the ensemble sometimes struggle to maintain momentum, being hurt, albeit not mortally, by its intricate, puzzle-like collection of independent plotlines.    

At the crossroad of a fever dream and a documentary enquiry, Waltz with Bashir feels so universal that we tend to forget it is ultimately a very personal descent down the nine circles of hell.   

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