2008 // Israel // Ari Folman // November 23, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
Ari Folman's troubled, magnificent Waltz with Bashir embraces a style/genre mating guaranteed to shake up cinematic expectations: the animated documentary. Wrestling with fragmentary memories of his days in the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon War—especially an unmoored, hallucinatory recollection involving flare-illuminated skinny-dipping—Folman interviews former comrades-in-arms and others who were involved in the conflict. The notorious massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila looms over the proceedings, and the film lurches with a swelling dread towards Folman's anguished understanding of the events and his own culpability. Bashir's visuals are stunning, and the film's sharp contrasts in color and motion serve to deftly highlight its wickedly rendered mood and sobering themes. As in the most powerful, personal examinations of horror, it's the details that stick: a soldier mopping gore from the inside of his tank, an RPG screaming in agonizing slow-motion through a fruit grove, a journalist walking slowly and unconcernedly through a firefight. Folman tackles the timeless concerns of warfare, particularly its sheer uncanniness, with a thematic discipline that provokes while never seeming obligatory. Bashir's primary fascination is memory's role in tallying guilt and digesting the seemingly unfathomable, and in this it attains a rattled, grief-stained vividness.