Every ten years or so there’s a film that is something really special, a groundbreaking piece of cinema that changes he way we conceive of the medium and its conventions. WALTZ WITH BASHIR is without a doubt one of those films. Spanning across the familiar terrains of the documentary and the war film, Ari Folman’s masterpiece crashes through convention and cuts to the core of the material by making one bold decision: make the documentary animated. We’re not talking rotoscoping or stop-motion or any other halfway houses, this film is a full blown animated film that twists the boundaries of reality in an all-too-real tale.
The film begins with director Ari Folman, in his animated form, in a bar with his friend who recounts a recurring dream he has been having. He has been deeply disturbed by this dream in which he is chased by a pack of twenty-six furious dogs and drafts Ari in to help him work out what it means. After talking over the matter some deep-seated issues relating to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in XXXX are raised in Folman himself, and he is both frightened and confused about how suddenly they have been awakened within him. The emotional resurgence is so sudden and baffling that he drops everything right there and then and begins a search for the truth about his own experience in the conflict, a long journey that trawls through his own turbulent past in a hugely important period in the history of the recent conflicts in the Middle-East.
If nothing else, the wry manipulations of Michael Moore have taught us that personal involvement in a documentary can make it more accessible and more powerful (ROGER AND ME worked almost entirely for that reason) but he has also devalued the genre, making it associated with a personal political messages. What’s more, the myriad of material currently released on Middle-Eastern conflicts has made it increasingly hard for individual voices to be heard above a babbling debate that everyone wants to throw their opinion into. It was therefore nothing short of genius on the part of Ari Folman to animate his journey.
Purely objectively speaking, it is absolutely astounding that it hasn’t been done before. Though animation and documentary seem anathema to one another there are so many reasons that they can complement each other perfectly. Firstly, animating interviewees offers the possibility at least of a certain level of detachment, if not complete anonymity if so desired. Secondly, when the subject material is as personal and internal as in this case it offers an amazing amount of creative freedom. Where live-action docs are forced to rely on cut aways, long pauses and the like to suggest certain moments that there is no footage for, using animation frees the director to create or recreate internalised scenes of memory, dream or thought to any level of the surreal that may be required. Thirdly, it is a heck of a lot cheaper than filming a lot of material.
But even with the practical genius laid aside for a moment, WALTZ WITH BASHIR has taken a clever idea and milked it for every ounce of artistic potential that could be drawn from it. Every scene fizzes and crackles with creative charisma as we are carried on an emotional journey of epic proportions. It is visually stunning, perfectly put together and covers themes of incredible importance on both a personal and political level. This is a film of such importance that no self-respecting lover of cinema should miss it.
This article was first posted on November 3, 2008