I normally try to keep this blog afloat with relative levity and whimsy. However I just watched Waltz with Bashir, an animated documentary about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The film follows director Ari Folman as he realises after a conversation in a bar that he can’t remember anything about his role in the war. Later on that night he has a vision connected with the Sabra and Shatila massacre (http://tinyurl.com/luf7vl). Was he somehow involved? Is he supressing his memories? He sets of to interview his former comrades in arms to find out.
Unlike any other documentary the film is entirely animated. By producing the film in this way Folman can create much needed objectivity but also deal with recreating the past from the soldiers accounts of the conflict. The film moves fluidly between interview, flashback and occasional hallucinatory visons caused by the trauma of warfare. In one memorable sequence at the start of the film, one of Ari’s friends relates that during the war he couldn’t bring himself to shoot people. His commanding officer knew this and ordered him to kill any guard dogs he might find instead whilst raiding villages. Every night, in his dreams he is haunted by images of the twenty six dogs he shot.
The animation is vivid and involves composites of CGI and hand drawn animation. It has a grubby DIY edge to it, almost as though the film was drawn on to thick grubby cardboard before being filmed. If you’ve always dismissed cartoons as for kids then this could be an ideal starting point for you.
As a documentary, it is difficult to work out how objective Folman is being. Not many people would stop and question whether they are capable of aiding or abetting a massacre and the amount of intellectual honesty needed to make a film like this is phenomenal. On the other hand the Lebanese perspective is strangely absent. It’s a film that will raise more questions than answers about morality and responsibility. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I think it should be compulsory for all new army recruits to watch this film.