Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Waltz With Bashir

Waltz With Bashir is an extraordinary and original animation which documents a part of history which i (shamefully) know very little about: the Shabra and Shatila massacres of the 1982 Lebanese war. These atrocious attacks saw Christian Phalangists to slaughter civilians in Palestinian refugee camps – an incident which has been largely ignored by Lebanese historians.

Waltz With Bashir takes an entirely original look back at this incident, placing director Ari Folman at the centre of the action. He plays an animated version of himself as he interviews friends and former comrades in an attempt to remind himself of exactly what happened. Like many others involved, Folman seems to have entirely erased all memories from his mind.

It’s a simply stunning visual spectacle. Utilising the rotoscope animation technique made famous by A Scanner Darkly, live action is transformed into a colour-saturated dreamscape. It’s hyper-real, and absolutely beautiful. At times it seems three-dimensional, occasionally the scenes seem to have been deliberately flattened. This allows a blurring of the boundaries between memory, hallucination and reality which serve the narrative perfectly.

Opening with a nightmarish scene of snarling dogs and throbbing techno music jerks the audience into the action – even as it is revealed to be just a dream. It’s enough, however, to prompt Folman to search his soul and his conscience to uncover exactly what part he played in the massacre. His memory of the events is simply not there: he must piece it together.

A series of interviews and reconstructions follow as he tracks down and interviews those who served alongside him. Horrific tales of rocket attacks, bizarre flights of fancy and tank attacks are described and illustrated in sequences suffused with charm, beauty and horror. The juxtaposition of these sequences (and the straightforward interviews which link them) works fantastically, creating a multi-layered movie awash with symbolism.

As Folman comes nearer and nearer to his own truth the film moves away from the fantastical sequences which dominate the middle act. We see more and more ‘talking heads’ and eventually as Folman arrives at the truth the film abandons animation altogether in favour of documentary footage which is extremely unsettling and very powerful.

Waltz With Bashir is, without doubt, the best and most beautiful animation i’ve ever seen. It raises interesting questions elegantly and evocatively, draws the audience entirely into the action and pulls no punches. Essential viewing.

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