Directed by: Ari Folman || Produced by: Ari Folman, Serge Lalou, Gerhard Meixner, Yael Nahlieli, Roman Paul
Screenplay by: Ari Folman || Starring: Ari Folman, Miki Leon, Ori Sivan, Yehezkel Lazarov, Ronny Dayag, Ron Ben-Yishai
Music by: Max Richter || Cinematography: Yoni Goodman || Edited by: Nili Feller || Country: Israel, Germany, France || Language: Hebrew
Running Time: 90 minutes
Much like with Abbas Kiarostrami’s Close-Up (1990), a fantastic Middle-Eastern classic that’s technically defined as a “docufiction” (a combination of both real-life documentary and fictional narrative elements), the rave-reviewed Israeli film Waltz with Bashir is loosely defined as an “animated documentary,” and neither classification makes any sense. Close-Up is more or less a fabricated, cinematically enhanced courtroom drama orchestrated by Kiarostrami, while Ari Folman’s recounting of his military campaigns in the 1982 Lebanon War is completely recalled from memory, and contain no actual events recorded as they occurred (save for the film’s final 30 seconds). Bashir is as much a historical war film “based on true events” as Saving Private Ryan (1998), and thus isn’t a documentary at all.
What is true about all the hype regarding Bashir is that it’s a very, very good movie. Aside from the aforementioned Close-Up, Bashir is my favorite Middle-Eastern film. It’s a visual and thematic gem of a war opera that recounts its filmmaker’s struggle to come to grips with the horrors of war. Much like Vietnam epics in the vein of Platoon (1986) or Full Metal Jacket (1988), Folman’s violent, dark, and at times psychedelic tale takes the viewer on a mind-bending journey down the rabbit hole to discover the depths of human evil and the compromises warfare can make on the human soul.
The film is composed of striking animation style that combines elements of Adobe Flash cutouts and classic cartoon imagery. It looks like a graphic novel forced into movement, similar to the motion-comics version of Watchmen (2009) in that film’s “Ultimate Cut” home video release. While sometimes this visual style can seem stodgy and off-putting, most of the animation looks beautiful and allows Forman to establish psychological, metaphorical imagery that enhances the story and the movie’s tone.
Ari Folman is less the sympathetic greenhorn protagonist typical of many war stories and more the voiceover guide that steers us through various soldiers’ accounts of their time in the violent, war-torn streets of Beirut and the greater countryside of Lebanon. The intricacies of the political turmoil regarding exactly who is at war with whom are a little foggy if you’re unfamiliar with the torpid military history of the region, but in the grand scheme of the narrative, most of these details are of little importance. The main messages of the film are responsibility and guilt, the questioning of one’s sociopolitical structure that requires him to perform horrific acts in the name of national security, and the contemplation of those orders from higher-ups that seem to repeat themselves time and time again throughout history. Specifically with regards to Jewish history and the tumultuous rise of the Israeli state, this thematic examination of the nature of systemic human rights abuses is fascinating.
There’s little to complain about with Waltz with Bashir. It’s a consistent, engaging military theatre of personal revelation and sociopolitical conflict, and Folman’s tight pacing ensures this is a taught, tightly drawn cinematic narrative. Though it’s not without its weird moments, Bashir is confidently directed with a semi-unique psychedelic flavor that punches through cinematic reality to peer into the minds of its characters, as well as the opposing cultures for which they fight. If you want an engrossing, action-packed introduction to modern Middle-Eastern cinema, this one is as fine as any with which to start.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Folman weaves a tapestry of interconnected war stories that provide an intimate analysis of the film’s setting, its characters, and the ultimate conflict that lies buried within the narrator’s memories. Waltz with Bashir’s visual style is strange but well adapted to tell the movie’s morose story. It combines vivid dream sequences and unsettling imagery dripping in symbolism, and tops off those techniques with a brilliant musical selection.
— However… many of the characters are interchangeable and none too fascinating in their own right, though their individual adventures are interesting given the life-or-death situations in which they find themselves. The PDF-style animation looks off-putting in some sequences, particularly during intense firefights.
? Why is this film banned in Lebanon? It seems rather sympathetic to their suffering at the hands of Israeli military campaigns.