Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Movie Log: Waltz With Bashir

When Waltz With Bashir ended, The Wife said -- off-handedly, but with a slight edge -- "that was neither short nor funny." I pointed out that it was short, because it is, but I had to admit that there's nothing at all funny about it.

Ari Folman is an Israeli documentary filmmaker; like nearly all Israelis, he served in the Army when he was young, and Folman's service was as a combat soldier during the 1982 war with Lebanon. For about twenty years after, that didn't matter to him; he'd forgotten entirely about his war. But then -- in the semi-fictionalized timeline of this movie, in 2006 -- a conversation with a fellow ex-soldier started a series of dreams, or nightmares, or hallucinations, in which he and two other young soldiers rise naked out of the dark sea, walk into a Beirut shattered by shells and illuminated by slow-falling flares, getting dressed as they walk, and then run into a wave of wailing women.

So Folman decided to investigate his own war experiences -- to make a documentary about himself -- and he set off to interview various friends and comrades from that era. And, as he did so, his memories of the war came back -- but not the most important thing. He really wanted to know where he was during the Sabra and Shatila massacre (carried out by Lebanese Christian Phalangist forces under the winking eye of the Israeli army).

Waltz With Bashir is a sequence of talking head scenes, intercut with hallucinations and memories of the 1982 war -- but what makes it striking is how those scenes are presented. Folman animated the whole thing, in a crude web-style limited-animation mostly using Adobe, and gave it a palette that manages to be both washed-out (all grays and blacks) and high contrast (all yellows and blacks). In fact, the striking visuals almost manage to cover the fact that Waltz With Bashir has no real through-line and stops rather than ends, borrowing gravitas from old news footage -- shown as live action, unlike the rest of the movie -- before quietly stepping off-stage.

The title doesn't mean much, thematically -- it's from an interesting scene, near the end, but it doesn't refer to Folmer or his search...or the movie, or the massacre, or anything of real importance to the movie. It's the high point of someone else's life, I guess.

So Waltz With Bashir is an amazing-looking movie that doesn't quite live up to its visuals; Folmer never tells us what he learned about his possible complicity in the massacre, and perhaps he will never know. It's definitely worth seeing, but it tries to bury the fact that it doesn't answer its own question, which is bad form for any movie.



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Listening to: State Shirt - Up Up Up Up Up
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Matthew J. Brady said...

Unless I interpreted it incorrectly, Folman did eventually remember his involvement in the massacre; he was on the outskirts, firing flares up into the air and allowing the perpetrators to carry out their deeds at night. He made the comment that he sort of knew what was going on, but convinced himself otherwise.

Myself, I found it to be a fascinating movie, but you definitely make some good criticisms. The various fantasies and experiences were crazy, and notably non-heroic. It's pretty anti-war, all around. And the real video at the end was very necessary, I thought, since it showed that as unreal as everything seemed to all the soldiers, and as we had seen with all the animation, the events were very, horribly real. Striking stuff.

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