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WALTZ WITH BASHIR, 2007
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WALTZ WITH BASHIR,  MOVIE POSTERWALTZ WITH BASHIR, 2007
Movie Reviews

Directed by Ari Folman
Starring: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag
Review by Conor Duffy


SYNOPSIS:

Using animation to recreate recorded interviews with fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli film director Ari Folman attempts to better understand his own role in the conflict.

Winner of the Best Foreign Language Film award at the 2009 Golden Globes

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REVIEW:

The seeds of Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman’s critically acclaimed and beautifully animated documentary, were sown during a night of drinking with an old friend of the director. Both were conscripts in the Israeli army when war was declared against Lebanon in 1982, and as the two drank Folman’s friend recounted a recurring dream where a pack of dogs would hunt him down to his place of work. He believed the dream stemmed from his job during the war, which involved shooting dogs that could alert enemy soldiers to his platoon’s position. After hearing this story, it occurred to Folman that he had no recollections of the war himself. So he set out to interview as many of his old companions as possible, seeking to regain his lost memories.

The resulting film is equal parts exquisite and harrowing. Traversing Europe, Folman made contact with a number of men who fought alongside him during his time in Lebanon, and their stories are at times truly incredible. Moulded by the passage of time, Folman and his colleagues remember a year when they were making the last jump from adolescence to adulthood during the most difficult of situations. While pining for ex-girlfriends

and trying to figure out what to do with their lives they were also in the unenviable position of fighting for those lives. This has had a long-lasting effect on their personalities and their stories, which occasionally take on the shape of vivid dreams. Because of this, the choice of animation over live action recreation is an excellent one. Under the direction of brilliant artist David Polonsky, a team of animators worked tirelessly to produce a series of remarkable tableaux. Whether it be the image of a nude, maternal goddess figure gently carrying a young soldier away from a transport ship before it explodes or the humorous sight of Israeli forces repeatedly failing to destroy a car carrying Lebanese militia men, the rich tones and surreal imagery ingrain themselves into your memory.

More than a documentary, Waltz With Bashir is a mystery tale, as Folman slowly uncovers what it is about the Lebanon war that he so quickly tried to forget. It begins with a dream of walking naked out of the sea and culminates with the horrific discovery of witnessing the Sabra and Shatila massacre, one of the most despicable moments of the war that saw Lebanese and Palestinian refugees killed by the Phalangist Lebanese Forces in retaliation for the assassination of Phalangist leader and president-elect Bachir Gemayal. An investigation later declared that the Israeli Defense Force, who had been guarding the entrances of the two refugee camps, were indirectly responsible for the massacre, having allowed the Phalangists entry. Just as Ari pulls away the screen that blocks these awful memories, so the film transitions from dreamlike animation to the stark reality of the massacre with frank and powerful video footage of the aftermath. The image of a child’s body buried beneath a shallow grave of rubble is one that will haunt this reviewer forever.

Waltz With Bashir is a remarkable film that makes an indelible mark on the documentary genre. Its many inventive flourishes meld the real and surreal in a captivating tapestry of simple, beautiful artwork. The strange dreams and recollections perfectly capture the insanity of war and the ridiculous moments that are almost beyond belief (the title is taken from one such tale, when Folman’s commander grabbed a light machine gun and danced “an insane waltz” in the middle of a Beirut street under heavy fire, posters of Gemayal plastered across every wall.) Using his own repressed memories as the basis of an examination of the mental toll suffered by young men in times of conflict, Folman paints an image that could be familiar to any soldier who spent the first years of adulthood fighting just to stay alive. It is an engrossing journey, brilliantly told.

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