Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Waltz With Bashir

Q. An animated documentary? How does that work exactly?
A. Pretty well actually.

Waltz With Bashir is a documentary about Israeli soldiers who fought in the 1982 conflict with Lebanon. At this point, you may or may not be like I was about six weeks ago: "there was a 1982 conflict between Lebanon and Israel?" I had never heard of this before I heard about the film and started to read more about it. The director of the film had started to think about his military service in the early 80s, and realised that there were things that he could not remember about it. And when he started to have memories of things after talking to other people who had served in the army at the time he started to wonder whether or not they were real memories, or whether they were just things that his brain had constructed.

So he set about interviewing people he knew who had served at the time, and who were present in his memories of the time, to see if they could remember if what he remembered was correct. In doing so, a picture is painted of the conflict, in particular a portrait of an atrocity, a massacre that happened seemingly because everybody knew it was taking place or going to take place but nobody wanted to take any responsibility.

I've used a lot of artistic words in the previous paragraph, and as I said at the outset, Waltz With Bashir is an animated documentary. Rather than simply present things as a series of talking heads with some recreations of events, the director, Ari Folman, has animated everything. This gives a great sense of continuity, we see his interviewees at different points of their lives and it's great that it feels like it's the same person: we don't have to stretch as we might with a straight reconstruction.

Animation also allows for some really breathtaking shots and backgrounds as well; the style sometimes threatens to take things over a bit, and in some ways the audience is left wondering what the point of it all was. I guess with documentaries I often feel like the director has an agenda or a message that they want to get across, and I felt like I didn't really understand what Folman's was. It's definitely a very personal project for him, but I couldn't help but wonder what his intention for the viewer was ("What am I supposed to think about this?" - whether I agree or not).

It is a great film though, one that should be on any film fan's list of films to see as soon as possible. It made me aware of a conflict that I never knew about, and also gave a profound insight into the minds of people who fight in wars and how it affects them for the rest of their lives.

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