Wednesday, 11 April 2018

World Animation: Israel/Waltz with Bashir/Film Review

Figure 1, Waltz with Bashir [Poster]

Impressively moving animated biographical drama by Israeli director Ari Folman that serves as a form of therapy for the director himself on his journey to remember supressed traumatic experiences as well as an eye-opening insight of Sabra and Shatila massacre for the public. As Anthony Quinn wrote in his review of the movie for online newspapper 'Independent': ''s a powerfully ambiguous meditation on personal and collective avoidance.' (Quinn, 2008) The massacre was a scene of inhuman terror of killing hundreds if not thousands of innocent people in 72 hours period of time in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian Lebanese right-wing party as a revenge for the assassination of their newly elected leader Bashir Gemayel. The director decided to use probably the most unrealistic medium, animation, to capture the horrifying reality of Lebanese civil war in 1982 where he served as a 19-years old boy in Israeli Defense Forces. The movie quite literally illustrates the agony of a loss, not only of the memory loss but also the loss of identity and humanity.

At the beginning of the movie, Folman is looking at the photo of himelf as a young soldier but he doesn't remember being one, to him the boy at the photo might be as well a stranger. The director overcomes traumatic experience serving as a soldier in a civil war at very young and valnurable age, which as Folman said himself in the interview with Joe Strike for Animation World Network shortly after the movie was released: 'The memories got suppressed because I tried really hard not to remember. This is it, no big deal, I just put a lot of effort not to remember.' (2008) After his return home, he didn't seem to suffer from amnesia and for years he didn't even realize how much he actually managed to supress the memories on such disturbing experiences. It is in his middle age after he gets a visit from his old friend with whom he served at the war in 1982 when he finally realizes that he doesn't have a single memory of the war. He is even having doubts if he was a soldier at the war in a first place. His friend with whom the director served in the war comes to visit him a years later, when they are both middle aged men and his friend complains about the nightmare he keeps having about being chased by 26 blood-thirsty dogs (see figure 2) and how this dream relates to his experiences in 1982 Lebanese Civil War. Whilst the director is listening to his friend, he gets a vision of him and two other recruits walking out of the black sea in the night time with the sky litghen up by a sudden burst of light. (see figure 3) The director, therefore, decides to go on a journey in search of his own past and lost memory. He interviews people and ex-soldiers who served in the army at the same time as he did, he talks to a therapist, all in hope that he gets his memories back, no matter how terrifying they might be.

Figure 2, Opening dream sequence [Film Still]

Figure 3, Director's vision which is coming back to him repeatedly throughout the movie [Film Still]

The majority of the movie is animated which perfectly describes the director's vague memories of the horific war events. Animated sequences that are illustrating memories and events which are being discusted in the interviews throughout the movie are also intertwined with surrealistic dream-like sequences such as giant mermaid woman rescuing one of the soldiers from the middle of a shooting on a burning ship or the director's hazy memory of him and some other young soldiers coming out of the black sea. These choices of used medium and interpretations of Folman's autobiographical movie are helping the viewers to feel and see the events on the screen through a blurred out curtains of supression. In some ways, the chosen medium is protecting the audience from the terrifying truth and reality but at the same time, it helps to empathize more with the director's feelings and his perspective. 'The unorthodox use of animation makes us keenly aware of the form--and how we experience representations of war, violence and suffering.' (Adams, 2008) In the movie trauma specialist tells Folman about a soldier who walked through a battleground looking around through an imaginery camera lenses, but then he entered a field of slaughtered horses and his imaginery camera breaks. The viewers of Waltz with Bashir are protected with an 'imaginery camera lenses' during the animation sequences but the camera breaks at thet end, when the director's memory starts coming back and the animation changes into a real life footage showing a crying and screaming women in a refugee camp and the aftermath of the war.

Waltz with Bashir is mainly created with Flash animation with the addition of traditional hand drawn animation technnique and CGI animation for those parts, where it would be too difficult or impossible to achieve the desired image with purely using Flash animation or just to some more depth and interesting shot to a scene. As for instance, the scene, where the mad soldier is spinning in circles and firing from a gun around himself is hand drawn animation and so are the fight scenes of big tanks where everything is moving really fast. But animating legs of a person slowly walking across the screen is easier to create with using CGI animation than it is with hand drawn or Flash animation. As the director said himself in the inerview for Animation World Network: 'We used 3D only for a 'touch of flavor', I would say aerial shots, crane shots, tracking shots, inbetween scenes - just for beauty and not more than that, to give the film some more depth.' (Folman, 2008) The whole crew which was working on the movie consisted of only a few people: the director Ari Folman who was also a protagonist of the movie, art director David Polonsky, director of animation Yoni Goodman, responsible for all the animation techniques used for individual scenes and shots, only six (later on eight) animators and overall budget as small as 1.7 mil dollars. In comparison to other bigger studios such as Pixar or Disney, where there are multiple animators working on a single scene or character it is very impressive, what this small crew of the movie Waltz with Bashir managed to create.

As the movie is telling a cruel and disturbing truth of war, the reception and critiques weren't always the most positive but overall feedback was very good. John, 2009 (user at Times Out) said: 'Absolutely incredible film. Portrays the topic with sensitivity and insight without making a blunt judgement. The soundtrack by Max Richter is also beautiful.' Ron Ben-Yishai, an Israeli journalist famous for his reporting of the 1982 war and a character in the fiml says: 'This film documents — really documents — the feelings and sensations and emotional experiences of a simple soldier in a war which is very similar to those being conducted now in Gaza and in the West Bank...' The journalist for The New York Times, A. O. Scott wrote about the movie in his review: 'Since it was shown in Cannes last year, 'Waltz With Bashir' has attracted a lot of attention and a measure of controversy, some of it surrounding the very last moments of the film, in which the animation stops and the audience is confronted with graphic, horrifying images of real dead bodies. This ending shows just how far Mr Folman is prepared to go, not in the service of a shock for its own sake, but rather in his pursuit of clarity and truth.' (2008) Even though some Arabic critics expressed their disagreement with Folman's represantation of the Lebanese civil war. They complained that Mr Folman emphasizes more with Israelis rather than focusing on focusing the innocent Palestiian and Lebanese people in refugeee camps, who really suffered. But the director claims that his intentions were to explore and show the world this event from his personal points of view as an Israeli Defense Soldier: 'I feel very strongly that it is not my mission or job to deal with another side..' he [the director] said.' (Bronner, 2008)

Waltz with Bashir is a devastating autobiographical animated movie with the main intention and message to show the world and young audience what happened in the 80s during the Lebanese Civil War. The ending as the director is getting back his supressed memories and the animation switches to a real life footage are quite literaly screaming: it's not about me and my traumas anymore, it's about look what happened! As Ethan Bronner wrote in his review: '....succeeds as an exploration of individual emotion in a national trauma. Since the vast majority of young Israelis serve in the army and many faces disturbing episodes or encounters, the film has opened a rare conversation here about the impact of those experiences.' (2008)


Adams, B. (2008) 'Waltz with Bashir' : The Fallibility Yet Persistance of Memory 
Bradshaw, P. (2008) Waltz with Bashir (Accessed on 27/03/18)
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18)
Bronner, E. (2008) In Search of the Soldier in His Past 
At: (Accessed on 11/04/18)
Ebert, R. (2009) WALTZ WITH BASHIR 
At: (Accessed on 09/04/18)
Freedland, J. (2008) Lest we forget 
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18)
Jolin, D. (2008) Waltz With Bashir Review 
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18)
Scott, A. O. (2008) Inside a Veteran's Nightmare
At: (Accessed on 09/04/18)
Strike, J. (2008) 'Waltz with Bashir': Animation and Memory 
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18)
Quinn, A. (2008) Waltz with Bashir (18) 
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18)

Illustration list:

Figure 1, [Poster] Waltz with Bashir (2009) 
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18)
Figure 2, [Film Still] Opening dream sequence 
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18)
Figure 3, [Film Still] Dream-like memory 
At: (Accessed on 27/03/18) 

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