waltz with bashir
World Cinema

Waltz with Bashir directed by Ari Folman

thumb_waltz_with_bashir1-1 How do you show war – with all its lunacy, its waste, its human cost  both for the victors and the survivors? You can try to be visceral and make a heroic story of it – like “Saving Private Ryan”, but that leaves you feeling a bit hollow, as if the complete tale has not  been told. You can try to juxtapose grim action and dark poetic – like “Thin Red Line”, which leaves a deep impression but its too real and too visible. The best visual masterpiece that combines everything that can be said is to my mind “Apocalypse Now”.

But once you see “Waltz with Bashir”, you realize the handicaps and the restrictions that a purely human actor oriented war movie puts on the creative narrative. War is a hazy thing when it passes – for both sides and both make up memories to explain the events. War is too traumatic for objective storytelling. Those scarred by it would take refuge in their minds and colour the events so that they can move on.

This is why you need a medium of storytelling that allows you to bewaltz-with-bashir-2 (1) fluid and can give dimensions to a story that a camera focussed on a human being can’t.

“Waltz with Bashir” is the director Ari Folman’s attempt to come to terms with his own past, to exorcise his own ghosts. He served in the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) during the 1982 Lebanon War which saw the horrific massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The story begins with Ari’s colleague complaining to him about a recurring nightmare that he has which has to do with his experience in the war. To his surprise, Ari cant remember anything about his own experience. Its as if its completely been erased from his memory.

So begins his quest for finding the truth – what really happened. And piece by piece he begins to unravel the facts until finally he comes face to face with the horrific realization of what his recurring vision means. Its a journey that lets the viewer go along with Ari as he goes around the world to dig inside his own mind. It never lets you get ahead, with the result that you find out at the same time as Ari…

waltz-with-bashir4 I started this post by talking about the dynamism of the medium. I don’t think story would have the same impact if it had human actors and shot on camera. It would have seemed too real. The magic of this movie is that it could move seamlessly between visions and reality thus giving a surreal feel to the story. The violence and the madness depicted in animation gives a deceptive look of lesser intensity until the scene explodes with savage intensity. Seeing an animated scene that has its roots in reality can be quite disconcerting, hence the magic. The scene where the soldier dances a mad waltz to the tune of his gun firing in front of the fresco of Bashir could not have been replicated so effectively by a human actor. It would have seemed too fantastic. Here it fit the pattern. The last devastating truth, the wails has the danger of being clichéd in a normal cinema. Here they tear at you…

The final minutes of actual footage of the massacre gives a jolt to the viewer. It was the best ending that could have been given to the movie. In the end, reality does matter. And the people actually died, whether we show with human actors or whether on the computer.

I liked the honesty of the movie. Some people have called it simplistic waltzbashir_450x250 and even propagandist in its politics. The first part is true, to the extent that it did not look into the politics and confined itself to the human cost. It is after all, a man’s search for meaning. As for the latter accusation, perhaps they didnt hear the reference to the SS in the movie. Its good to see an Israeli movie referring to Israeli action akin to that of an SS. The candour is refreshing.

There are many reasons to watch this movie – for its brilliant storytelling, for the innovative medium, for its exquisite imagery and for a great journey into the mind of those who get stuck in war. But maybe you would want to watch it for the what it tries to tell…