Animated Lebanese terror

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Waltz With Bashir: 90 minutes. Rated: MA. Director: Ari Folman. DVD website

Waltz With BashirDuring one scene in Waltz With Bashir (Vals Im Bashir), a trauma specialist tells a story of an Israeli soldier who, in order to cope with the horror of the 1982 Lebanon War, rendered his experiences as a film inside his head. Through the lens of his 'camera', he was able to view the scenes of battle and slaughter with awe and marvel, but not fear.

Waltz With Bashir itself achieves something similar. Part documentary and part animated saga, it revolves around the Sabra and Shatila massacre of more than 800 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in 1982. Documentarian Ari Folman witnessed the aftermath of the massacre as a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, but has repressed the images of his direct involvement.

He sets out to interview former comrades and other experts and witnesses, and in so doing is able to reconstruct the sequence of events, as well as his own memories of them. Innovatively, the film blends animated versions of these interviews and conversations, with vivid, animated recreations of each character's wartime anecdotes.

The surreal visual style and episodic structure reduce the real events to an artifact, which provides space for reflection, while adding intensity. The artifact is more than the sum of its parts. As much as it is a broad comment on war and its consequences, Waltz With Bashir is also an exploration of the nature of memory and of the place of morality during and beyond war. The audience becomes vicarious witnesses to the horror.

When it comes to adult images and themes, animation has an interesting effect. Like the 2008 film Persepolis, which portrayed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, the animation in Waltz With Bashir soothes the revulsion of scenes of graphic violence, while also lending them a grotesque beauty, that is at once magnetic and unsettling. There is also a practical benefit too. Folman is able to recreate scenes of which no footage exists.

Such scenes — of a soldier fleeing into the sea after he is abandoned mid-battle by his regiment; of another soldier spraying bullets into the air and 'dancing' in the street while snipers snipe from above; of Folman himself, a teenager, warbound, seasick and vomiting off the side of a boat while his fellow soldiers party — are recreated with an engaging dreamlike quality. 'Reality', dreams, memories and hallucinations blend into a seamless montage.

There is a twist in the tale of the aforementioned soldier, who reduced the war to a film in his head. Eventually, inevitably, his camera 'broke'. This occurred when he was confronted with the startlingly horrific scene of a yard full of massacred horses. Suddenly, the war was real. He became a victim of 'trauma'.

Similarly, Waltz With Bashir doesn't let its audiences off with a safe fantasy. During its closing moments, the stylistic animation gives way to archival video footage. Ultimately Waltz With Bashir is a confessional, and Folman is compelled to take us with him into the full, hard reality of the massacre and his complicity.

Waltz with Bashir DVD available from Madman Entertainment

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Sabra and Shatila massacre, Lebanon War, Ari Folman, Waltz With Bashir



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The one vomiting in a boat was not Fohlman but a person he interviewed.
E | 16 June 2011

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