Thursday, 25 January 2018

REWIND REVIEW: Waltz With Bashir

(MA15+) ★★★★★

Director: Ari Folman.

Cast: Ari Folman, Miki Leon, Ori Sivan, Yehezkel Lazarov, Ronny Dayag, Shmuel Frenkel, Zahava Solomon, Ron Ben-Yishai, Dror Harazi.

"T'was a dark and stormy night...."
War is hell, or so the well-worn cliché goes.

But war is also strange. It is brutal. It can be repetitive, disconnected from reality, and absurd. It even has weirdly, disturbingly beautiful moments dotted among the savagery and insanity.

War is also something people try desperately to forget. Ironically, it's something we should always remember so that we might stop doing it.

Waltz With Bashir is about war, and as a result, it explores all those aforementioned things. Specifically it is about the Lebanon War of 1982, in which Israel invaded Lebanon under the pretence of hunting down Palestine Liberation Organisation forces operating in southern Lebanon.

More specifically, it's about filmmaker Ari Folman's struggles to remember his own involvement as a teen soldier in the war, and in particular the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which thousands of civilians were murdered by an Israeli-allied militia. Folman is haunted by a vision he can't explain and begins tracking down his old war buddies in an attempt to piece together his part in the atrocities.

While it is a documentary, and all the more powerful for the essence of truth at its core, Folman's genius move is to animate it - a rare but not unheard-of gambit. Using a combination of Flash animation, traditional hand-drawn animation, and 3D computer techniques, the director and his team turn the recollections and re-enactments of the war into visually stunning works of art.

It's animated style is in many ways a metaphor for Folman's own memory. The heavily stylised figures moving awkwardly against almost-monochromatic backgrounds help cushion us from the reality of what is taking place, much like how Folman's patchy recollections insulate him from his own past. It makes it easier for Folman to deal with, just as the animation makes the events somewhat more palatable for the audience to watch. It's also a clever device to allow the audience to see things that would perhaps be too brutal, or impossible to film, or that wouldn't have passed the censors - shooting a dog, dying horses, the death of a child soldier, the slaughter of a family, a soldier watching graphic pornography in a seized Lebanese mansion.

But as the film progresses, the beautiful animation can only do so much to save us from the reality of what we are seeing, and the savagery gets under our skin. When the veil of artifice is finally removed and the computer-aided drawings give way to actual news footage from the time, the result is utterly devastating. In the context of everything that has gone before, that scant minute or so of real life at the film's end is one of the most powerful gut-punches I've ever seen in a film. After nearly 90 minutes of somewhat softening the blow through a beautiful and brilliant stylistic choice, the ending is a reminder of how real it all is. It's a cruel and overwhelming turn of events that will leave you shattered.

The animation also allows Folman to sub in a couple of actors for the former soldiers who didn't want to speak "on camera", without it breaking from the documentary approach. It's visual delivery is also well suited to the more hallucinatory moments, such as Folman's weird vision at the core of the plot, or his friend's dream of floating away from the war on a large voluptuous sea-woman. These elements slot in perfectly, without breaking the tone of the film, despite their fantastical nature.

Waltz With Bashir finds a strong-enough mystery at its core to pull the viewer along, and it's smart enough to end right before tedium can set in. While it lacks some context to its event, it's easy enough to catch up, and will leave you wanting to know more about this largely forgotten military action.

It will also leave you utterly devastated. Consider yourself warned.

I watched Waltz With Bashir at a screening hosted by F Project Cinema in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia. Here's what's coming up at future FPC screenings at the Mozart Hall (all screenings are at 7.30pm):

Wake In Fright - February 14

Inside Out: The People's Art Project - February 28

Everlasting Moments - March 14

Chasing Ice - March 28

City Of God - April 11

Cobain: Montage Of Heck - April 25

Captain Fantastic - May 9

The Music Of Strangers - May 23

The Red Turtle - June 13

Life, Animated - June 27

The Double - July 11

Aim High In Creation - July 25

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