Serious films depicting the harsh realities of war are rarely done in full 2D animation; there is perhaps a reason for this – some could argue that it dilutes the brutal vividness of conflict. However, those that doubt have definitely not seen the very real and cutting tale that is Waltz with Bashir.
Waltz with Bashir is an Oscar nominated animation telling a true story of the harrowing experiences involving the 1982 Lebanon war, between Israel and Palestine. The film follows Israeli army veteran Ari Folman’s attempt to reconcile his amnesia, as he realises that he has all but forgotten the cold truths of the war he once fought in. In a bid to piece together the few memories he has, Ari – the director of the film – meets with old comrades to discuss their experiences. The deeper into the mystery he digs; the more he remembers the devastating realties he once embraced.
This film is one of the most stylishly unique pieces of animation I’ve ever seen, even if you’re not politically minded or interested in Gaza; view it simply for the cut throat aesthetics. And if you’re one of those who feel childish watching animated films, it’s definitely time to grow a pair as Waltz with Bashir is more adult than a bar mitzvah. You’re almost kicked into your chair from the second the film starts. A pack of ravenous dogs’ race through a city, tongues wagging, eyes blind. Women cover their children and Men hide from the dog’s snarling jaws as tables and chairs are over turned. It is electric.
As a fan of traditional animation I thought I’d be slightly put off by the style of Waltz with Bashir as it’s almost entirely made up of Flash animation. However, the way in which it’s constructed seems so natural. The fluid yet stiff movement in a way personifies the reluctance of the young soldiers. Emerging from a swim in the sea, wet behind the ears, a group of Israeli soldiers stare over a hazy horizon at a massacre, in one of Ari’s flashbacks. The movement that the Flash animation provides, almost resembles the blank disbelief one could imagine the soldiers were feeling – that lucid life affirming deafness that comes when it really hits the fan. The decision to use Flash was probably a budget issue rather than artistic license, as traditional animation cost more and takes longer – either way it did the job. The films’ graphic style is reminiscent of old 50’s poster art, almost like a grittier, rawer version of the Hero of the Beach comic strips. This, combined with a chilling darkness is the perfect – almost noir-like setting that makes Waltz with Bashir visually a fair tribute to the abomination of war.
As a director, Folman has apparently taken the cold images of his minds’ eye and put them into scenes that make perfect sense – despite how obscure. There’s a scene in which an old comrade – Carmi Can’an – describes to Ari a memory he has where he passed out on a boat that was leading them to war. As he dreamt, Carmi saw the ship he’d been on explode in the distance, killing all on board. He’s awakened to find the destruction of reality around him. The troops leap from their boat and fire aimlessly at a passing car. As the gunfire dies down and the trigger happy youngsters inspect the vehicle, they’re confronted with the mangled bodies of a whole family. It just seems to come together. I felt that the dream was almost a subtle metaphor for the death they’d caused, killing themselves inside as well as the innocents, with a single action.
As a film, everything seems to work in Waltz with Bashir. The soundtrack is scathing, pushing the vividness of brutality with each note. The animation is dark and eerie; it portrays the gritty surroundings with ease. The story is tragic but has you in a vice grip from start to finish. But don’t take the bait too quickly. Sadly, after all that you have to look at the film from another angle. Although Waltz with Bashir is a great graphic sentiment, Israel is still out there shooting little Palestinian children today. Perhaps if they weren’t cutting aid and burning down buildings, the Palestinians wouldn’t need to throw rocks – the rock throwing being the Israeli justification for firing round upon round of M16 into Gaza.
Waltz with Bashir is simply a gesture. Whilst Amos Oz feels like a seasoned Israeli ambassador of culture, and whilst Ari Folman is polishing awards, war in Gaza still tears through the heart of Palestinians everywhere. If there was ever a perfect personification for the purpose of this film, it’d be the day Folman held up his Golden Globe without mentioning a single word regarding the accelerated war in Gaza that was happening that very same day.
Waltz with Bashir depicts correctly that Israel shot with a vengeance, but I don’t personally swallow the depiction of how they “cried”. With elderly women, starving families and young children still being shelled to pieces on a regular basis, how can this film portray the truth of Israel’s modern day stance on Lebanon?
Upon my third viewing, it did hit me how the families of Sabra and Chatila would probably welcome Folman’s ailment; however they never woke from the nightmare. Waltz with Bashir seems to shrug off responsibility for the massacre. Folman’s shrink even suggests that it was the Nazi’s. Of course it was; those damned Nazi’s! It was their abominable acts that destroyed the Jews, so how could the Israeli’s possibly do the same? Folman was apparently “cast in the role of the Nazi against his will”. This comment reeks of a similar ideology of “I’m not racist; some people in my family are black!”
The running theme that the soldiers involved are in fact the victims, due to personal torment and harrowing memories is a hard hit to take. The true victims and sufferers are not actually shown until the animation stops toward the end. Rotting corpses of all ages lie scattered amongst rubble and ruin of Sabra and Chatila. Decaying children are stiff, flies at their skin, lamenting families destroyed through unbelievable anguish. Waltz with Bashir is an aesthetic marvel, but nonetheless, it is little more than beautiful propaganda.
Review by Jake Hanrahan