Saturday, January 24, 2009

Waltz With Bashir ***1/2

Director: Ari Folman

"Waltz With Bashir" is a strange creature in every aspect; it belongs to the odd genre of "animated documentaries" an already contradictory and troubling statement even if the subject wasn't a former soldier's search of redemption.
Based on the memories, or lack of them, of director Folman who served as an Israeli soldier in the 1982 Lebanon War, the plot has him tracking down people who were with him in the army in order to help him put together the pieces of what happened exactly during the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
Visually engaging from the minute it starts the animation, which evokes comic book style, was developed by Folman's team using traditional 2D technique, Flash pieces and some 3D.
The fact that it's not nearly as realistic as CGI gives the entire film a surrealistic touch that might not be the most traditional choice to represent such a harsh subject matter but makes perfect sense in an artistic point of view.
It's not about animation as a gimmick, but as the fullest way Folman found to convey all he needed to say; art after all doesn't have to be a representation of life as we see it.
Perhaps the typical documentary approach of using interviews, archival footage and some reenactments might've gotten Folman's vision lost in the process, the fact that here we can't identify so easily what's supposed to be "real" and "reenactment" only serve to affirm one of the film's most challenging ideas; that there is no right and wrong during a war, just destruction.
"Can't films be therapeutic?" asks one of Folman's interviewees and it's only appropriate given that the director reccurs to advice from psychologists and therapists who try to explain to him the reasons of his amnesia and attempt at interpretations of the dreams he has.
During these interviews we come to know of curious cases about the way in which soldiers cope with their duty using all kinds of mental resources; a photographer who found himself in the middle of a war imagined he was viewing everything through a lense which gave him a sense of protection, another one finding himself alone in enemy territory swims deep into the ocean where he felt he could escape and yet another soldier being showered by bullets erupts into a sudden dance which surprisingly helps him evade the shots being fired at him.
All of these sequences come to life and obtain a haunting kind of beauty which resonates ironically in a man's suggestion to Folman that "it's fine as long as you draw, don't film".
Given the state of the world and how little the situation in the Middle East has changed since the events depicted in the film, "Waltz With Bashir" often dallies on a very thin dangerous line as its implications might result offensive, condemning or just plain biased to either side.
And for a while, when a character gives an all too facile psychological interpretation related to Jewish guilt and the Holocaust, it almost falls for choosing sides.
But Folman picks up on this and turns his film towards the less traveled path pushing his search forward even when the results might dehumanize him; while some of his countrymen find a certain justification in the role their spiritual beliefs have given them, the director goes above this and declares that no God is excuse enough to commit murder.
When the movie is about to reach its most troublesome sequence Folman has what can only be likened to a psychoanalytical breakthrough, he realizes that like the people in one of the anecdotes he listens about, he was also looking at his subject "as if it was a film", perhaps the whole experience of making the project was merely a mechanism he was using to remain outside the events.
Then as if the movie was creating itself in front of our eyes we let go of our preconceived images of war, soldiers, the Middle East and religion, giving path to an utmostly human elegy.
During the last, brilliant, tensely constructed, scene when the actual emotional truth behind them finally materializes the pain is impossible to contain.


Michael Parsons said...

A lovely review, even if I felt differently about the film over all, it was a stunningly original one.

Mark said...

Am I hallucinating or did you change it from four stars to three and a half? If so, why?

Jose said...

Hahaha you're not hallucinating.
I never change grades, but I guess watching this movie really late at night had a bigger effect for me as I wrote my review.
The following morning I felt less ecstatic about the movie and felt that four were TOO much, especially considering I'd already awarded four stars that same day to a movie that still felt breathtaking to me.