Animated films are an art form that could be credited as far superior to anything else, especially with today’s available craftsmanship and technology. When done well the storytelling can attain such heights that it can completely overwhelm traditional cinema. But the reason that such works are a rarity is because a good, original and tension-driven animated picture is hard to create. In “Waltz With Bashir” Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman tells an autobiographical story story of enlisting in the army when he was in his teens (September 1982) and marching on West Beirut afterLebanon’s president Bashir Gemayel’s assassination. He witnessed the Sabra and Shatila massacres soon afterwards, a dark stain on history which wasn’t forgotten by those of us alive in the 80s.
Folman who plays himself, meets with an old acquaintance at a bar and tells him about having a recurring dream. Encounters with other men from his platoon lead to more yarns being spun until a complete picture of this nightmarish period of Folman’s life and a dark period of history emerges. The esthetic of “Waltz with Bashir” are in the same vein as Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly,” which screened here two years ago. The animation replicate the human form but also impart it more elegance and urgency. One noticeable difference with the Richard Linklater film is that Folman’s characters move a lot slower. During a scene when Folman and a former combat mate walk through the snow while talking about their memories of war, time stretches indefinitely making the characters appear larger than life. Even though this is an autobiographical work, the specter of war and its aftereffects on combattants (an issue which is becoming more and more talked about today as we enter the aftermath of the Iraq conflict and troops are coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder) overwhelm any atttempt at individuation by Folman.
“Waltz with Bashir,” heavy with the reminiscences of the massacres Sabra and Chatila is Ari Folman’s masterpiece: a powerful and elegant drama which created quite a stir here in Cannes this year.