Friday, 7 September 2012

filmbore pick of the week - Waltz With Bashir

Waltz With Bashir

Director: Ari Folman
Screenplay: Ari Folman
Starring: Ari Folman, Ronny Dayag, Ori Sivan, Ron Ben-Yishai
Year: 2009
Languages: Hebrew, German
UK rental release: March 2009

Rotten Tomatoes

Dreams can be mysterious at the best of times, sometimes leading us to question what our brain is trying to tell us, while even pushing us to investigate their cryptic beauty. But never has this been as poignant as the motives behind Ari Folman's exquisite animated documentary, Waltz With Bashir.
A conversation between Ari and a friend who he knew from the Lebanese War, where his companion is haunted by a dream about ravenous dogs hunting him down through familiar streets, uncovers the revelation that Ari has very little memory of his experiences as a soldier. There is one particular moment that sticks with him - he recalls emerging from an ocean with a few other colleagues, presented with a decayed city skyline. A morbid air hangs amongst the calm, as he is puzzled by combination of both the serene and looming horror of the ever closing landscape. He knows that this moment has a striking importance to his time at war, but is unable to delve any further into this snapshot of his life.

The intrigue of this memory starts him on a quest to recover the lost points of that particular moment. Somehow, he has allowed his mind to lock it away, so he takes it upon himself to reconnect with other veterans from the war, and with anyone else who has some form of connection. As he continues to unravel the past experiences of others, he is gifted with slivers of his one true memory, slowly evolving within his mind, and leading to the despairing scenes that he knows are waiting for him...just likes his friend's nightmare-dwelling hounds.

What appears to be a realistic and mature animated story is in fact a true account of Ari's mission as a soldier. Although some of the interviews and accounts have been re-enacted (still by the real people involved) for cinematic perfection, what's handed to us is a raw, emotionally charged view of the Lebanon War. What's also incredible is the slow reveal of Ari's inner dark experiences, that were so subliminally shunned by his defensive brain. It's a brave and exposing tale of truth, and you feel privileged to be involved in it.

Now, it is indisputable that this is a harrowing but intriguing true life story, as are many other war documentaries, but there are many other factors that make Waltz With Bashir so unique..., we have to mention the animation. The technique, invented by this film's Director of Animation, Yoni Goodman, is a stand-out star of the piece. It brings an astounding uniqueness not yet touched on by any other war docu-film, or any documentary for that matter,  that I have seen. Along with Yoni's team of animators (ten as far as I know), a further team of three illustrators were brought by David Polonsky, who drew the majority of the piece himself. The output generated by this animating super-squad is breathtaking, bringing a comic book vibe to the film. Just watching a trailer of the movie itself is a work of art - there's not enough praise for the stylisation of this output.

We also need to draw our attention to the interesting choices of music - be it classical, 80's or originally composed, thanks to the great craftsmanship of Max Richter. Light and dark are scattered across the whole tale through anthems and themes, that are adeptly chosen. These song selections are partnered with some affecting switches between the talking-heads style interviews of reality, and the artistic representations of events. The marriage of these editing choices both visually and audibly, also exploit the engaging animated style. It's an adventurous method that could have failed so badly, and probably would do for most pictures, but it grants Waltz With Bashir with a personality of its own.

And finally, I can't leave the film alone without expressing my joy at the subtle choice of humour throughout the entire docu-film. Don't expect gut-wrenching laughs when I say this, but there is gentle comedy sprinkled across the celluloid. Taking into account all of the points I've mentioned - the animation, music and switches between the real and bizarre - the small veins of humour sits perfectly, with a grin of satire. I was surprised when these few small moments appeared, and pleasantly so. These choices are intelligent and defiant against the backdrop of war, and give the piece a fresh feel.

Even though it was Oscar nominated, this gallant, heroic and respectful work of art is still unknown to most, which is a real shame. There is nothing else out there like it, and repeat watches open up newer avenues of emotion and awareness. Ari Folman, through the four years of production on such a personal film, has built a brutal but beautiful picture of war, and his journey through his own demons is a genuinely rewarding experience.

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