Movie Review: Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir is about a former Israeli soldier exploring the fluidity of his from memory during his time in the 1982 Lebanon War. He pieces together the puzzle of his hazy memories by interviewing old friends, soldiers, and various other people about the war. Director, writer, and main character, Ari Folman, recreates these interviews in this unorthodox documentary, where two actors reenacting the interviews. The interviews yield recollections that most of his comrades tried forgetting. What is revealed to the viewer (and to Ari) is that the soldiers have created memories and narratives that help them justify their role in the war. Ari, however, seeks truth, and not just subjective memories. By joining Ari down the rabbit hole of memory, we are given a glimpse into the aftermath of war and what it means going forward in civilian life. What separates Ari from his comrades is that he is haunted by the thought that he might have taken part in something that is more horrifying than the war itself.
Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary film about a former Israeli Defense Force soldier's experience during the Lebanon war of 1982. We follow the former soldier, Ari Folman (the writer and director of the film), through his journey of dark memories of war that has been blocked for 20 years. The imagery of the film is akin to the surreal animated films of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly in which the film is shot in real life, but then animated over frame by frame. This surreal imagery allows Folman as a documentary filmmaker to discuss with other former soldiers about the film's heart of darkness: the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacre.
The style of story telling along with the choice of digital/animated hybrid visuals creates a dreamlike quality. This allows for continuity in the visuals that go from present interviews and past scenes of battle. The latter not requiring stock footage of news-recorded battle. The imagery is symbolic of Folman's quest to revive lost memories and find answers through the fog of war. Folman use of surreal images from hallucinations during combat, to the streets of Israel and Lebanon, and Folman’s own mind exemplify the disreality the characters have created, but are now confronting through Folman's quest for answers. Although the film is animated, it progresses like in a somber documentary with interviews that are conducted in documentary fashion. Folman breaks the traditional archetype of what a documentary should look like and how it should progress in its narration.
Folman meets with a series of friends and former comrades to learn more about the role he might or might not have played in the war. He can recall some of his own memories, but he’s not sure which are real. A recurring Virgil-type character throughout the film, Zahava Solomon, is a war psychologist that analyzes Folman's traumas from the war.  We follow Ari into the homes of former IDF soldiers in present time, the battlegrounds in Lebanon in 1982, an Israeli expat's property in the Netherlands, and the shores of Lebanon. By the third act where the narrative focuses on the Sabra and Shatila massacre, it becomes a much more harrowing film . As Ari goes deeper into his memories and creates connections between soldiers he might have encountered, he meets with a former tank brigade commander, Dror Harazi, about the horror of the Sabra and Shatila massacre where Ari learned that he may have played in the Christian Phalange massacre of Palestinians. The last minutes of the film shift from animation into reality, which show the most haunting images of the war.
Waltz with Bashir is a powerful documentary that depicts the horror of war through the use of surreal animation. This is a must-see film for fans documentary and those interested in history and war. It gives an insight to the mindset of the soldier who has not only experienced war, but also witnessed horror and merciless violence. The film is told from those who were in Beirut and delves into why they’re apprehensive to discuss their memories. It is this same fear of the past that drives Ari to seek the truth about his experience that he has long chosen to forget. Waltz with Bashir will leave viewers haunted not only by the horrible capabilities of humanity, but our ability to forget this horror.
Image credit: Google