Waltz with Bashir (2008) follows director/producer Ari Folman in his journey to rediscover his past from the 1982 Lebanon War. Initially, his pursuit is to confirm an ambiguous scene he witnessed as a soldier by interviewing veterans and interpreting their memories with a psychologist friend. The film shifts from a series of personal recollections to a diplomatic appeal when each man’s account reveals the haphazardness of the soldiers, commanders, general public and war in general.
The genre is an interesting hybrid of documentary and animation: actual people are represented in cartoon versions of themselves yet dialogue is intact. Visually, it’s bold, stylish and impressively meticulous. Over 3,000 frames were hand-drawn with tactful consideration to various visual cues (shadows, motion parallax and fine texture details) reminding us of the incredible effort and patience often overlooked in animation. With visual language this captivating, it's not hard to forget this is an educational documentary: Folman learned from previous documentary projects that cartoon-izing interviewees makes them readily familiar and accessible, thus more engaging to the audience. 2
And to portray each man’s shell shock, only the flexibility of animation can cater to human memory’s distortion, an underlying theme in the film. Whereas Folman’s memory is elusive, his friends can explicitly recall every dog that was shot, dismembered body parts floating amidst demolition, or their escapist wet dreams. “War is like a very bad acid trip,” Folman said, and that “animation is the only way to tell this story, with memories, lost memories, dreams and the subconscious.”3 Here, it's clear Waltz with Bashir proves life does indeed imitate art.
What then sustain the integrity of documentary amidst the punchy animation are the real voice recordings. Actual testimonials anchor us in reality so no matter how embellished the stories seem, the weariness and vulnerability in each veteran’s voice remind us that war is impossible to exaggerate. Appropriately, the film ends with real footage of the Sabra and Shatila massacre aftermath that Folman himself witnessed: the camera pans slowly across stacks of dirty corpses yet can barely keep up with the hysterical women that follow. We see it all through Folman’s cartoon eyes, emphasizing the contrast between the fanciful, imaginative world to the real.
Although animation will indefinitely be known for the naïve, childish fables of Saturday mornings, it is perhaps that stigma of novelty and innocence that accounts for Waltz with Bashir’s ingenuity: we are not used to seeing explicit content in cartoon, making the scenes all the more compelling. Funnily enough, lavishly funded war dramas with Hollywood actors can rarely resist glamorized action scenes or romantic conflicts. Waltz with Bashir ultimately does not challenge the seriousness of war and gives animated films the last laugh.
1"Waltz with Bashir poster." Flickr Creative Commons. Wolf Gang. 11 Nov. 2008.
2"Ari Folman: "Animation, or Not at All"" Interview by David D'Arcy. GreenCine. All Media Guide, 23 June 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. <https://greencine.com/central/arifolman>.
3"Ari Folman Finds Freedom in Animation." Interview by Steve Erickson. Film and Video. Studio Daily, 18 Dec. 2008. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. <http://www.studiodaily.com/filmandvideo/currentissue/10304.html>.