Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Director: Ari Folman 
Cast: -
Plot: An Israeli film director interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to reconstruct his own memories of his term of service in that conflict.

Genre: Documentary/Animation/Biography
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Feature. Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes). 
Runtime: 90min
Rating: R21 for some disturbing images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity and a scene of graphic sexual content.



This review reveals the nature of the film's ending that may affect your experience. While it is not a spoiler in the strictest sense, you are encouraged to refrain from reading the review if you have not seen the film before.

Do you ever have flashbacks from Lebanon?”

I have seen this film so many times that I have lost count the number of times it continues to impact me. Directed by Ari Folman, Waltz with Bashir swept almost every major award it was running for, only to fall short at the last hurdle when the Japanese melodrama, Departures (2008), pipped it to the finishing line by winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

While I felt Departures was deserving of the Oscar at that time, in retrospect, Waltz with Bashir should have been crowned. But award musings aside, Folman's film is highly recommended, and a haunting experience you will never forget.

Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary. That in itself is a cinematic oxymoron, because documentaries are often seen as a recording of reality, while animation is preoccupied with the idea of fantasy and the aesthetical manipulation of the image.

But Folman's film convincingly shows us that both genre forms can exist at the same time. It is a tremendous breakthrough in that respect. Perhaps it is only fitting that Waltz with Bashir was realized as such as it is a film dwelling in the construction of a past event through the process of recollection.

Memory, as we all know, is unreliable. Thus, is it possible to pick up remnants of memory from different sources to piece the mystery of a traumatic massacre? Folman interviews a number of people who were involved in the 1982 Lebanon War. The interviews and memories are animated, giving the illusion that reality and fiction are potentially blurred.

Folman seems to want to probe the historical truth of the massacre, but does that truth exist? And does it exist in any indexicalized form? As the film comes closer (or farther) from the truth, the pursuit of constructing reality becomes inconsequential.

As the film switches in the last three minutes from animation to real footage of women crying along streets lined with bodies of their loved ones, including children, Folman wants us to look past the historical truth.

Instead we are overwhelmed by a more potent and universal truth - the truth in human suffering. This is why Waltz with Bashir continues to impact me. It is a film that is as surreal as it is haunting, rooted in the memory of survivors and witnesses, however truthful or distorted, yet it is resonating in powerful humanistic ways.

Verdict: Cinema's first animated documentary feature is also a haunting and powerful experience that holds well even with repeated viewings.

GRADE: A+ (9.5/10 or 5 stars)

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Please click this link for my essay on Waltz with Bashir for a more in-depth analysis and review of Folman's film.


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