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Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)


     Ari Folmanís autobiographical animated documentary Waltz With Bashir, starts out with a blast of energy, as it recounts a terrible nightmare in which the dreamer is put under siege by a pack of demon dogs. This blatant metaphor for unease immediately prompts the viewer to wonder what could have begat such a vivid and terrifying dream. To answer this question, the director sets off on a series of interviews with the troops who served alongside him during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Unfortunately, in doing so, the film almost immediately lurches into a repetitious cycle of guilty confessions and representational questioning. Itís not coincidental that, in Folmanís schematic worldview, those who seem to be coping the best also seem to be those in deepest denial. The movie proceeds arbitrarily and unconvincingly from this state of affairs toward a personal catharsis that utterly ignores larger political contexts.


     Thereís a fine line between ďpersonalĒ and ďpolitically irresponsibleĒ, and itís not surprising that a film this blunt constantly threatens to cross that line. This most often occurs through a gross oversimplification of the elements at play in the build-up to the genocidal atrocity that sits at Waltz With Bashirís center. For a movie ostensibly about a group of men brooding endlessly about an event, these guys havenít gained much real perspective about the other participants in the conflict. What results is a movie thatís anti-war in the vaguest terms, and as guilty as its subjects of compartmentalizing the atrocities that it wishes to expose. Any collection of combat-weary veterans could offer the trite reflections that this group does if they were looking to absolve themselves. Not even Folmanís cheap, last-minute gambit of confronting viewers with actual footage of the slaughter in question can do this horror justice, though. The directorís treatment of this documentary footage in this context trivializes it and reeks of exploitation. The cameraís ability to privilege the perspective of its wielder has rarely been abused as blatantly as it is in this film. This is a singularly self-serving work.


     Though itís admittedly novel to see a movie that features Israelis grappling with the fact that they played a part in allowing genocide to take place, the animated approach taken in Waltz With Bashir minimizes the horror behind that act. Apparently opting to animate his documentary footage because his subjects did not want to be photographed (!), Folman has come up with a creative, but entirely ineffective solution. The quality of the animation thatís used is not up to the serious task at hand. It turns what would have been a series of talking heads into a series of ugly drawings, and while this allows for some degree of visual expressiveness, it sacrifices the fine tunings of the human face, which is a loss too great to bear in a film so focused on personal storytelling. The viewer, as a result, gets stories after they have been processed through an intermediary, leaving them no ability to properly judge what they hear. Though occasionally capable of presenting striking graphical contrasts, the filmís animation style ultimately looks cheap and stiff. This saps a considerable amount of power from the movie, and distances the audience in a way thatís not at all helpful. The animation in Richard Linklaterís Waking Life, made seven years ago, showed that with care and attention to detail this approach could enliven a film that was primarily based on dialogue exchanges. Folmanís work has all the impact and resonance of a web-based Flash cartoon. The supposed political bravery and flashy graphics on display in Waltz With Bashir have resulted in the emergence of plenty of fans for the film, but what actually is put up on the screen is unavoidably amateurish and hopelessly self-absorbed.




Jeremy Heilman