Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Waltz With Bashir: Grade B

Waltz With Bashir (2008)
Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Ari Folman (voices); Writer and Director Ari Folman.

This hand-drawn animated documentary is stunningly beautiful. The sets and characters are drawn with such care that it is sometimes worthwhile to stop the DVD and examine details in the background. Colors are mesmerizing. Motion animation is only perfunctory, so the feel is that of a graphic novel, not a Dreamworks project. The illustrations are there to help the documentary along, not to create a whole alternate world.

And the story is tough. It is about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the early 80’s, the horrors of war, and ultimately about a massacre of civilians committed by the Israelis. The main character is a soldier who allegedly does not remember what he did in the war, so he goes around interviewing his old war buddies and gradually his memory comes back. This is a neat device for telling the story and allegorically, it also reflects the psychological and emotional conflict this story presents to modern Israelis, who do not want to admit that they committed such a massacre. It is apparently a very sensitive, political topic even today, and this film presents a radical breakthrough in public discourse in that respect. An animation also lets an Israeli audience maintain some emotional distance from reality even as they learn what happened.

The story is very sympathetic to the Israeli soldiers, not necessarily justifying the killing or the war, but it is from their point of view, showing how they were just ordinary soldiers suffering the privations and confusion of being in battle, not monsters, not killing machines, not committers of war crimes. The actual massacre is only touched upon lightly at the end, as if it were too “hot” even for this movie. So I don’t think it is as brave a picture as it pretends to be, but I am not Israeli and not a historian. Politics aside, just as an appreciator of film, I’d say it is engaging, a good-looking piece of work, worth seeing.

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