Vancouver International Film Festival
“Waltz with Bashir” played as part of the Special Presentations Series at the 2008 Vancouver International Film Festival.
The most difficult film for me to view at the Fest at perhaps in the last couple of years was “Waltz with Bashir”.
An animated Israeli documentary that is also autobiographical, the film follows its director, Ari Folman, who has for decades been haunted by his experience in the first Israeli-Lebanon War.
In 1982, Christian militiamen known as Phalanges massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The massacre was in retaliation of the killing of their leader, Bashir Gemayel, a key Israeli ally at the time. It was the Israeli army that allied with and allowed the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen into the Palestinian camps.
Amidst all this history and complexity are Ari Folman and the people he interviews. With their recollections, we are presented with some of the pieces of a complicated puzzle. Ari Folman is not only struggling to regain memories of his time in the Israeli Army, he is clearly battling his conscience and attempting to figure out what his personal role was in this tragedy.
Director Ari Folman says that he always imagined his memories and flashbacks of his military experience as illustrated, so he decided to go with animation for “Waltz with Bashir”.
The animation has a kind of other-worldly quality that cuts through our assumptions of what a documentary should be. It presents less of what happened then how people felt. On the flipside, we see how a character feels, but we are left in the dark as to what really happened. Perhaps that’s the point of “Waltz”, to let us feel what others feel, confusion and all, but my knee-jerk reaction was to look up more information about the events depicted, because I was confused as to what happened and when.
From the first shot of 26 vicious dogs running madly through the streets, to the last where animation gives way to real-life footage, a visceral emotional reaction is what this film is all about. Emotion is the driving force, and I felt mentally exhausted as I left the theatre. Nonetheless, it’s the sort of movie that requires contemplation and conversation after viewing, and is presented in a unique way that is difficult to face, but even more difficult to ignore.