The film Waltz With Bashir in an animated documentary from Israel. After seeing it I had to write this, even though I didn’t plan on moving outside of the realm of comics in this blog so soon. The film centers around the filmmaker Ari Folman and his quest to regain his memories from his time in the military. Folman served in the 1982 Lebanon War and can’t remember a thing until a friend, who also served in the war tells him about a dream. This conversation triggers Folman’s first flashback. This begins his journey to find out what else he can’t remember. Folman visits others that he served with to interview them. The interviews are integrated into the film as if we are watching the conversations between Ari and the people from his past. In the film he also speaks with a reporter and a psychologist. As the conversations progress he remembers more and more and the viewers see the flashbacks that he begins to have.
At first thought I typically don’t think of animation as the best way to present a documentary, but it works perfectly here. The animation allows for a very cinematic feel that the film might not have had if it was done in live action. In Ari’s flashbacks the battles he fought in the war are shown. The animation gives a very surreal feeling to the fights. The intenseness is lessened because of the cartoony look and I think that lessens the glorification that is given to war in so many movies. Here the soldiers aren’t shown as heroes, instead we see the wars for the utter wastes of life that they really are. Someone might wonder how accurate the flashbacks can be to what really happened if they’re animated. The same can be said for his memories. We have no idea if what he remembers is what really happened. It very well could just be his mind fabricating memories to fill his head with something.
I find it interesting that Folman worked so hard to remember his days as a soldier. So many people try desperately to forget what happened while they were at war. Ari was the exact opposite. He worked to uncover something so horrible that happened to him that his brain completely blocked it out. Eventually the memory that he first flashed back to is fully fleshed out. Ari searched through his life to remember the results of a massacre that was carried out by his side of the war.
His final memory creates a jarring ending to the film. Ari walks through the streets as people run past him. The sounds of their screams cover up everything else . Then suddenly the animation ends and the film smash-cuts to actual footage of the aftermath of the massacre. Buildings are destroyed and dead bodies litter the street. Everything comes to a halt and it all becomes very real. It reminds the viewer that this all really happened, it wasn’t just a cartoon. The screen fades to black and I find that my eyes are filling with tears. I don’t know why, but I’ve been overcome with emotion. Seeing the bodies of these innocent people was a shock to my system after having watched animation for the past hour and twenty minutes. I shouldn’t feel as sad as I do. I didn’t know these people. I had never even heard of this war until this film. These scenes of death and destruction are what Ari was fighting to remember and there’s something profoundly sad about that.
Waltz with Bashir isn’t a film for everybody, but it is one of the best documentaries that I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly powerful and is an interesting examination of war and memory.