There’s very little gutsier film-making than creating an animated war documentary. Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman’s genre blend is exactly what makes “Waltz with Bashir” a stand-out film, one made with every intention of frightening producers in concept and spitting in Hollywood’s face with its quality. The challenge of every war film is to illuminate a repetitive genre and “Bashir” does exactly that almost by approach alone.
The film is best described as a narrative documentary told in the first person. Folman, who served in the Israel army during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, interviews friends and others who shared his same experience in hopes to jog his memory, images from his experience that he’s subconsciously erased from his mind. It begins by addressing the fine line between memories and dreams, fiction and reality and evolves into a story of war’s horrors
The animation is a technique called animatics, where live action footage is shot in a studio to provide sound and an image for the artists to work with, then the artists animate these scenes and use computers to add in Flash techniques. It’s a rough animation style but its infused with beauty from the computer, namely light and smoke techniques that go beyond traditional animation. “Bashir” has an allure all its own despite the tough story it tells.
So why this technique? Folman’s answer might just have been to be different, but the reality is it forces you to observe with a different perspective. Animating tragic events jades us to the horrors, allows us to ignore them. Contrast that to the perspectives of the people telling their war stories and suddenly we can sympathize with their own fragile memories, the reason so many soldiers stood idly as Christian Phalangists brutally massacred Palestinians in their own refugee camps no less.
The use of Flash allows for some really interesting sequences in the film that depict these memories. Its supposed to be about the young soldier’s perspective of war and so rock music and this ’80s music video style at times contrasts other scenes showing what war was really like with the idealistic painting of ‘cool’ that some soldiers thought they were walking into. With every Israeli having to serve in the army, this is about coping regardless of one’s opinion of war.
Other than its insights into the war-torn memory, “Bashir” is a pretty standard exposure of war. What makes it special is there’s no glorifying of war — not even a single character who believes it to be that way — and its one-of-a-kind medium. It’s important to blur the boundaries of films when its appropriate and this revisiting of war proved to be one such setting.