WALTZ WITH BASHIR written and directed by Ari Folman. A Seville Pictures release. 87 minutes. Opens December 26. For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
War memoir's eerie fluidity will haunt you
You could describe this as "the Israeli Persepolis," but only if you wanted to demonstrate your total lack of understanding of either movie.
Waltz With Bashir is indeed an animated memoir set in the Middle East, just like Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's project. But rather than the narcissistic ramblings of a self-absorbed young Iranian woman, Waltz With Bashir follows the wrenching, immediate odyssey of filmmaker Ari Folman, who is trying to come to terms with his experiences as an Israeli soldier in occupied Lebanon in the early 1980s.
Ari Folman's autobiographical account would be unwatchable as live action.
As the film opens, Folman can't really remember what happened to him in his military days. He knows he was in Lebanon, and he's fairly certain he was in close proximity to the infamous 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila - when the Israel Defense Forces allegedly looked the other way as Christian Phalangists executed an unknown number of Palestinian refugees - but he never really thinks about it.
Then a friend tells him of a recurring nightmare about being chased by 26 ferocious dogs - the number is always the same - and relates the horrific story behind it, sparking Folman's own memory and sending him to interview former comrades and present-day colleagues.
Folman's decision to tell his story, and those of several other veterans, through stylized digital animation is both visually striking and dramatically inspired.
The dreamlike visuals lend an eerie fluidity to even the most banal sequences. A simple barroom chat becomes loaded with meaning through the slow shaking of Folman's head or the avoidance of a friend's gaze. They also allow Folman to insert odd little bits of business in the background (a young child fascinated by a large knife on a table, for instance) that neatly illustrate the potential for sudden, horrific violence that runs through any soldier's mundane experience.
Folman plugs us directly into the experiences of his 19-year-old self, rendered as a vivid assault of bright colours and loud noises. He can show us things that would be entirely unwatchable if they were recreated in live action. It's the only way to get them out of his head.
Like last year's Persepolis, this is a lock for an animated feature nomination. But of course it'll be beaten by the cartoon robot.