Friday, December 05, 2008

review: waltz with bashir

Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman’s excellent animated film, is a cool, deliberate and moving evocation of memory, conscience and war which moves from muted tones of yellow and black through luminous multicolour and back again as the director recounts the nightmarish reality of 1982s Israeli-Lebanon War, and his own efforts to reconstruct his recollection of it. Like thousands of men his age, his formative years were defined by his involvement in war, though both his own country and much of the Middle East which surround it – particularly Lebanon – have found themselves the staging ground for much of the world’s conflict since. At 19, be that as it may, he was sent to fight, and to kill. Yet he remembers little. What took place all those years ago?

Part autobiography, part fantasy, and part documentary, Waltz With Bashir is constructed from a series of flashbacks, hallucinations and interviews, all lovingly illustrated. Unable to piece together the details himself, Folman begins a long, painful search for the truth, finding people he served with, drawing out his own suppressed memories and interweaving them with those of his peers. The results are always beautifully drawn, but invariably upsetting; an officer forced to swim out to sea to escape capture by Palestinian forces; a troop trying in desperation to cross a junction while being fired on from all angles; the memory of six men having to gun down a child armed with a rocket launcher.

Worst is the darkest memory of all; Folman’s involvement in the massacres at Sabra and Chatila, where Phalangist Christians led Israeli forces into refugee camps and enacted a devastating genocide on the Palestinians within – murdering young and old, entire families lined up and shot under the yellow sky. As the film’s most devastating line attests, Folman, whose own parents survived Auschwitz, is made unwittingly to play the role of Nazi, firing flares into the sky so that the light persisted enough for the massacre to continue. At the apex of this savage injustice, the film switches not just from monochrome to full colour, but from animation to live video. The final, dreadful moments of the movie consist solely of archive footage of the terrible aftermath - wailing survivors surveying the destruction, the bodies of children poking horrifically from the rubble.

Despite the painful reality of these closing shots, the movie conjures up several arresting images of its own - an early sequence, which describes a memory experiment at a funfair, is echoed, in a moment of playfulness, through a window; a pack of dogs charge vengefully through the streets; a terrified soldier, cowering on a military boat, is provided with a moment’s respite by an erotic hallucination. The most powerful image is that of the auteur’s face, frozen in the streets of Beirut as he witnesses the carnage around him. It’s repeated several times; a slow pan around a youthful face, and gains in intensity with every viewing, until at last you learn something, something, of the atrocity of war. Waltz With Bashir is both chillingly upsetting and notably beautiful – a superb, troubling, and yet strangely cleansing film. Go see it.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Nice post. I saw it a couple of weeks back at the Duke of York. Set a whole new standard in animation and documentary.