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Entering Dark Places

November 16th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Logging in to Netflix Instant for a movie to watch is like being hungry and shown to a food replicator. It doesn’t solve my problem — it introduces one thousand new ones. Luckily, I can see which genres are rated higher in nutritional content, in this case, 4 or 4 ½ star ratings out of 5 stars. “Documentary” had a lot of those. So did “Anime & Animation”. In the month of November, I take another trip around the globe to sample recent animated feature films. Next stop: Tel Aviv, Israel.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)
Directed by Ari Folman
Written by Ari Folman
Produced by Ari Folman, Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul, Serge Lalou, Yael Nahlieli
89 minutes

Cutting a harrowing combat documentary with bargain basement Flash animation, Waltz with Bashir transports us across a landscape unlike any other, blending the real with the surreal, atrocity with the vexing nature of memory. Having suppressed his own personal experiences of the Lebanon War, army reservist and screenwriter Ari Folman began the process of directing his first feature film by soliciting interviews with veterans over the Internet. These formed the basis of a script. The next step was videotaping both interviews and scripted segments on a soundstage in Tel Aviv. The Bridget Folman Film Gang — named after the filmmaker’s dog and consisting of eight animators, four illustrators, one After Effects artist and one editor — used the live action footage as a reference to draw storyboards, then animatics, which in turn took four years to animate.

Shown in bits and pieces to financiers, a budget of roughly $1.7 million was raised, namely from Franco-German public TV network Arte. Expecting a furor in his home country, Folman was surprised when Israel embraced Waltz with Bashir and helped it land an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Unlike something that feels programmed for film festivals or awards, Waltz with Bashir breaks out with striking originality. Dramatizing combat in a war zone that was 20 minutes from the homes of many of the soldiers fighting it would have made for a riveting enough movie, but Folman uses more than one brushstroke here. Dreamlike segments dovetail into the documentary aspects of the film beautifully. Of the 3,500 keyframes that comprise the picture, art director David Polonsky drew at least 75%.

Filmmaker Ari Folman meets his friend Boaz Rein-Buskila for a drink. Rein shares a dream in which the vengeful spirits of twenty-six dogs he shot on patrols during the Lebanon War of 1982 haunt him. Folman carries no memories of the war, despite his proximity to the massacres at Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila. His friend Ori Sivian suggests that memory is fluid and can be replaced with images that may or may not be real. To unlock his memories of the massacre, Folman seeks out veterans who might be able to shed some light on his activities during the war. Traveling to Holland, he visits a classmate named “Carmi Cna’an” whose memories include being pulled into the sea by a blue woman before deploying in the city of Sidon. Cna’an has no recollection of the refugee massacres.

Folman is hit with a flood of memories of the Lebanon War. Only 19, he spent the early days of the conflict transporting the bodies of wounded or killed soldiers. Veteran Ronny Dyag recounts his guilt surviving an enemy ambush on his tank by fleeing battle, but has no recollection of seeing Folman. Shmuel Frenkel — a sergeant given to covering himself in patchouli oil so his men wouldn’t lose him during night patrols — recalls Folman being by his side from training on, though Folman is unable to. Post-trauma expert Zahava Solomn explains that he may have dissociated his memories in order to cope with what he experienced in Lebanon. The more stories he hears about the massacre of Palestinian refugee camps by Israeli backed Christian militias, the closer he’s able to put himself to the genocide unleashed twenty five years ago.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 9,517 users: 89% for Waltz with Bashir

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 91 for Waltz with Bashir

What do you say?

Tags: Animation · Coming of age · Crooked officer · Documentary · Dreams and visions · Military · Psychoanalysis · Shootout

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mr. Howlett // Nov 17, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    If you haven’t got your schedule meted out yet for this series, I’d suggest George Miller’s Happy Feet if you’re going roundabouts to Australia.

    That’s one of the most aesthetically idiosyncratic big-budget animated films in recent memory, and it’s beautiful for it. I just hope the sequel next year doesn’t get bogged down by the studio, like they do.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Nov 18, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Mr. Howlett: I’m scheduled to make a stop in Australia this month for another animated film, but I definitely appreciate the recommendation on Happy Feet. George Miller makes far too few movies for me to skip seeing this one, which I heard was fantastic. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment!

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