2008 | Director and Writer: Ari Folman | Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
François Truffaut reportedly once said that it’s not possible to make a film about war without making war look enjoyable. At first glance, the Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir” would seem to fulfill yet again the famed Auteur theorist’s saying, in that “Waltz” is in the unique position of being an animated documentary, designed not only to examine real events, but also to arouse the viewer’s aesthetic fancy. However, director Ari Folman does well to utilize the animation aspect of his provocative work to highlight the absurdity of war rather than glorify violence for the sake of entertainment, making “Waltz” one of the more haunting films in recent memory, and a poignant exploration of the nature of trauma.
When Folman realizes that he cannot remember anything from his time in Israeli Army service during the Lebanon War, he embarks on a quest to visit and interview ex-compatriots and friends in order that their fuzzy memories of the 1982 conflict—a war capped by the Sabra and Shatila massacre, during which an estimated 3000 defenseless Palestinian refugees were slaughtered by a Lebanese opposition group while Israeli forces stood idly by—might fill in his own blank slate. As the stories, rendered in highly original and provocative fashion, roll in, Folman becomes increasingly concerned that he might have played a part in the massacre.
The animation itself, a mix of Flash, cel, and 3D styles, goes a long way toward making “Waltz” feel like a piece of narrative fiction instead of a documentary. The interviewees speak of their experiences with detachment bordering on boredom, but their tales—as Folman imagines them—leap from the screen, detailing moments of madness and self-preservation, malaise and remorse, all with a horrifying vivacity not present in most live-action war films. The dream-like remembrances are sometimes titillating, but as visual adaptations of real-life trauma they represent the lengths the human mind will go to in order to bury what the eyes have seen.
“Waltz” derives most of its power from its decidedly apolitical bent; the goal of the war is never questioned—not its worth, nor its necessity, nor what started it—and the filmmakers decline to offer a value judgment of any one character or group. Folman’s point, instead, seems to be that there is no national or collective experience when it comes to military conflict. War can only be a personal ordeal, and one that always wounds deeply, even if only subconsciously.
Rating: Four of Five Stars
Content Warning: violence, nudity, and a brief scene of graphic sexuality