Review: Waltz with Bashir

The First Lebanon War was not one of Israel’s finest hours, but Ari Folman’s study of the conflict’s effects might be


"Waltz with Bashir," says Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman of his extraordinary and disturbing evocation of the horrors of the First Lebanon War of the early 1980s, "was always meant to be an animated documentary.
"For a few years, I had the basic idea for the film in my mind but I was not happy at all to do it in real life... Then I figured out it could only be done in animation with fantastic drawings."

It was a decision which gives his film a unique power, combining harsh reality with a surreal view of war and its disquieting emotional effects on young soldiers, both at the time and years afterwards.

The narrative arc is simple and effective. The film opens with a terrifying sequence of snarling dogs racing past the camera, which morph into an old friend telling Folman himself of his recurring nightmare.

The two men conclude there is a connection between the dream and their service in the Israeli army during the Lebanon war. Perturbed that he cannot recall anything about that period of his life, Folman decides to interview old comrades to discover the truth about the about himself and his combat experience.

Too often, film animation serves to distance the viewer from the events it depicts. Not so here. Indeed, when animation briefly segues into stark real-life news footage from the 1982 massacres of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, the power of the animation that precedes it is never undercut.

The series of often dreamlike images conjured up by the various interviewees and by the director himself combine to create a portrait of war that is as potent and evocative and often more disconcerting than in many live-action movies.

It is a remarkable film. Historical truthfulness may, as always, open to debate. Waltz with Bashir leaves open the question of the extent of Israeli knowledge of what happened at Sabra and Shatila in favour of creating a universal picture of men in war and then firmly locating it in its historical context. What makes Folman's film so remarkable is its innate belief in the intelligence of audiences to come to their own conclusions.

And thanks to lottery funding, more audiences will see it. Distributors Artificial Eye have been given £250,000 to broaden the film's release from 25 to 60 screens.

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