Israeli documentary film Waltz with Bashir is a striking documentary. For one thing, it’s beautifully animated with depth and strong shapes. For another, its method of storytelling is thought provoking, personal and fascinating. Not to mention that it’s also incredibly heartbreaking and disturbing.
Filmmaker Ari Folman served in the Israeli army during the invasion of Lebanon, specifically the Sabra and Shatila massacre. But twenty years after the incident in question, his brain seems to have locked up those memories and thrown away the key. While his friend is having reoccurring nightmares, Folman is unaffected. Waltz with Bashir is his exploration into trying to remember what he can’t by interviewing friends he served with, a journalist who saw the aftermath, as well as specialists in dreams and memory.
The animation, similar to Waking Life, is extremely lifelike and human. The depth that each scene has is fantastic while the use of strong black lines with occasional color gives that extra emphasis and impact.
On the one hand, Waltz with Bashir doesn’t feel like a documentary because of the animation. It almost puts a distance between the horrible things that the people discuss having seen and having done and released them of culpability. But on the other hand, the final scenes of the film are actual video of the aftermath of the massacre. When those pictures come onto the screen, it is as though the volume went from 0 to 10 — the impact is that great.
For years I’ve toyed with the idea of seeing Waltz with Bashir but always shied away, worried it would be too disturbing, too upsetting. What a mistake it was to put it off for so long. Waltz with Bashir is groundbreaking, not just for its storytelling by way of animation but in the way it tells its story. It’s moving and shocking — just like a good documentary should be.