Waltz with Bashir

An Israeli documentary launches rotoscoping into uncharted territory -- 4 stars

Directed by Ari Folman. June 2008, Israel. Rated R: 90 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 3/7/2009)

In 2008’s Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir, writer/director Ari Folman addresses the issue of Israel’s early 1980s war with Lebanon in an aesthetically daring documentary. Folman uses a rotoscoping technique similar to that of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006) but enhanced with flash animation. As in Linklater’s films, Bashir maximizes the form’s surrealistic effect by exploring the slippery quality of consciousness and memory, especially when under the psychic strain of modern urban warfare.

The film is comprised of a series of interviews wherein Folman’s old friends help him remember the horrors he had repressed. As the interviewees share their memories, we see beautiful (yet shocking) dramatizations of their narratives. One recalls escaping a seaside ambush and swimming for hours, assuming he was a dead man. Another elaborates on a forest scene: out of the blue, a mere boy scurrying through the foliage shot an RPG at their tank. Yet another remembers his commanding officer’s habit of fast-forwarding to the best parts of German porn in his military HQ. Though grim as a whole, Bashir is not without humor. None of Folman’s friends, however, stored the memory of their Christian allies’—that is, the Lebanese Phalangists—massacre of Palestinian refugees in the prison camps in Sabra and Shatila. Stationed only a few hundred yards away from the carnage, they ought to remember . . . unless their close proximity caused a mental block.

You’ve heard in movies before, and you’ll hear it again: war sucks. But Folman’s masterful presentation of the human mind’s flaws and wonders offers so much more than typical anti-war fare.

And the last scene . . . Let’s just say it spooked the bejesus out of the Boardman’s Art Theatre audience. Everyone just stared as the credits rolled, petrified by the final images.