Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir is a perfectly competent documentary. Then Folman decided to animate it. Rotoscope it. As they say: Brilliant!
Ari and a friend of his are at a bar, and his friend is telling him about a recurring dream. 26 dogs are chasing him and before they can get him he wakes up. Why they are chasing him he doesn’t know. The nightmare dog chase is the scene which opens the film (as the opening credits roll). It’s an horrific and tense chase. And one of several memorable animation images in the film. They both decide that the nightmare has something to do with their experience in the war in Lebanon in the eighties. Folman realizes that he has almost no memories of that time in his life. He decides to try to uncover his suppressed memories.
One of the scenes perhaps explains his artistic decision to animate the interviews. One of his interviews is with a therapist who explains that traumatic stress sufferers sometimes can only deal with their suppressed memories by disassociating themselves from the events. For Folman, the animation is a kind of disassociation. It’s another of these animated stories that gives the film its name. As an Israeli unit is beset by sniper-fire in their urban guerrilla fight, one of the soldiers dashes across the street in a macabre dance, dodging enemy fire. On the walls of the buildings from which the sniper fire is coming, loom the giant posters of the assassinated Bashir Gemayel.
It’s only at the end that the animation fades into real news reel clips of the massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps.
Can a movie be more timely? With the unilateral cease fire by Israel today of their incursion into the Gaza strip and the images of UN facilities being bombed and the high percentage of civilian causalities being reported, it’s not a leap to the parallels of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon: years of missile attacks from Lebanon on Israeli towns sparked the invasion in the first place. The rationale for the invasion was for public consumption only (does this make one think of the Iraqi invasion?) During the invasion, the assassination of Israeli ally Bashir Gemayel, led to mass reprisals and a huge civilian death toll.
The massacre in the refugee camps and their witnessing, is the subject of Folman’s sobering exploration. As such, it’s a worthy successor as a penetrating animation about the Middle East to 2007’s Persepolis. Usually when viewing a film at the theater, the crowd tends to start filing out when the credits begin to roll. Some people start to move. Some people stay. Not a sound nor a movement as the screen went black on this one.