(2008) dir. Ari Folman
viewed: 01/25/08 at the Clay Theater, SF, CA
Waltz with Bashir is the aptly much praised Israeli film about the memories of the 1982 Lebanese War and the Shabra and Shatila massacres. The film is considered an animated documentary, as the narrator finds himself triggered into a recovery of repressed memories of great atrocities when talking with another friend, who shares his own nightmares of his time as an Israeli soldier. The film is profound, intellectual, strikingly animated, and revealing.
While the style of the animation reckons of the technology behind Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), in which animation (in varying styles) is applied via software on top of shot photographic footage, offering a sensibility akin to rotoscoping, but quicker and freer, the actual visual style is high contrast figures against a variance of backgrounds, some more hyper-real, others more explicitly dream-like. And like both of Linklater’s films, the animation, while clining to some of the naturalism of the movement and environments depicted, adds an absolute layer of Surreality to the images and story, evoking the interior of the mind on top of the “real world”.
And for Waltz with Bashir, this makes great sense. Folman is much inside himself, or others as they recount their stories of the war, interior memories, searching for lost images, lost scenes. There is a great sense of psychology, a hunt for the repressed, the lost, the hidden. And in this, the film reminded me of excellent 2005 thriller Caché, in which another lost story of a massacre, of blood and history, is revealed. The hidden are facts and memories. But in Waltz with Bashir, the search is very much about the images.
As the memories are played out in the stylized animated designs, tracking back through one story or another, or the conversations between those seeking the repressed scenes, the sudden fulmination at the end, when the animation disappears and the images become that of the actual photographic (video) scenes of the mad horror of brutalized bodies and babies strikes forth with great power.
I’d read in The New Yorker a review of the film which criticized this final transition, saying essentially that it was a cop-out from its aesthetic and approach. But I would disagree. I think that this is an effective point, a transition in which the repressed comes back, no longer in some imagined, compromised memory, blurred and uncertain, but in the hard evidence of the natural world depicted via a camera. In essence, a the real, the actual. The horror.
It’s a hell of a downer of a film. But it’s quite brilliant. Like Persepolis (2007), animation is used to tell a story, a very adult story, in a fashion that is quite different from most anything in mainstream feature animation. The film is very thought-provoking, and interestingly, again like Haneke’s Caché, the return of the repressed for the characters of the movie acts as a revealing of history for the audience of the film. The story is about real events, real history, a horrible crime against innocents, a bloodbath, yet something that is not widely known. It is through this return of memory, the unearthing of the trauma, that educates the film viewer. It’s a revelation of our repressed history, small as it might be in the world’s grander schemes, yet made vivid and powerful as a film.