Animated documentary is a haunting meditation on the nature of guilt and survival following a hellish war.
Sony Picture Classics
Among the most heartening recent developments in movies is the upsurge in deeply personal animated films that break new aesthetic ground. I'm thinking particularly of Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly," Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis," and now, and perhaps best of all, "Waltz With Bashir," by the Israeli director, screenwriter, and composer Ari Folman. (It is Israel's entry for the best foreign film Oscar and recently won best picture of the year from the National Society of Film Critics.)
Like "Persepolis," which was about Satrapi's Iranian odyssey, Folman's movie – Israel's first animated feature – is intensely autobiographical. He brings his deepest crazymaking anxieties right up to the surface. Folman was a 17-year-old Israeli soldier during the 1982 invasion of Beirut and the subsequent massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. Twenty-five years later, he still cannot come to terms with his complicity in the bloodshed. He is in such denial that he cannot even clearly recall his participation. "Waltz With Bashir" is his quest to find out what happened. It follows Folman through a series of interviews with fellow soldiers who also served.
He utilized videotaped discussions as visual guides for the animation, a combination of Flash, hand-drawn and computer-enhanced 3-D modeling. The pastiche of styles points up Folman's disjointed remembrances. He documents the nightmares of his fellow soldiers, like the one from his friend Boaz that opens the film: Twenty-six ravenous dogs racing through the streets of Beirut. Boaz remembers the exact number because, while on military maneuvers, he had to shoot the dogs one by one in order to silence them. Another friend recalls the dream of being clasped by a giant nude woman floating on her back as they are carried off to sea. Images like these have a scary, hallucinatory power that no description can convey.