Last night, I came down with a nice case of food poisoning. I also saw the extraordinary film, Waltzing with Bashir. It is a documentary (mostly) where an Israeli director interviews friends and colleagues from their days in the invasion of Lebanon in the eighties. Were it simply a documentary, the film would be astonishing for it's glimpse of the banalities of war, juxtaposed with the horrors. Were it only an animated film, the images and mind blowing camera movements would be amazing. Plus, I am almost positive it is the only documentary ever to feature a 12 foot tall naked woman doing the backstroke.
As a documentary, the film has one problem (especially for US audiences). It is not interested in a factual blow by blow account of the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla. You will get the basic facts of the actions, but the movie is far more about the journey of the people interviewed. All of the accounts are real, with two of the characters voiced by actors because they did not wish to be filmed. So, put aside our almost complete ignorance of the first (?) invasion of Beirut, and fall into the wildly divergent stories of these very real soldiers. Using animation to bring the rich fantasy life of these soldiers to life is brilliant and beautiful. In particular, the author's journey (from complete mental block on the events to remembering everything) is nicely conveyed.
The animation in the film seems to move seamlessly from 2d to flash to full 3d, sometimes within the scene. There is one beautiful scene where the soldiers are wandering through an orchard, looking for militants. As they move, the camera goes from 2d flat animation to swooping out and swirling around the orchard, each tree a three dimensional wonder. My friend Dan suggested afterwards that the beauty of the animation forced one to face the horrors they conveyed. It's an interesting point, and quite true for me. Ironically in this world of action heros and advertorials, the brutal animation seems more real than any real footage (the director mentioned that the total lack of archival footage for the war is one of the reasons he decided to go in the animation direction.)
I am not generally a fan of psychotherapeutic surrealism, and this film definitely has that, from the aforementioned giant woman to a recurring mental block the author has about the events of the massacre, which involves floating in the sea as flares go off around him. It's all beautifully done, and it creates a sense of the mania these young soldiers were feeling. One character becomes convinced that he needs the heavy machine gun to survive, and wrests it from the private that is carrying it. The rich escapist fantasy life of the characters come to vivd life through the animation.
It's an arresting movie, and I recommend it to all. It really is unique. I know I have never seen anything like it, both in content and in composition. I was a little surprised at how careful the movie was to show that the rank and file soldiers were totally out of the loop, while still including scenes of innocent Palestinians getting blown away. It was an interesting tight rope (especially when the film itself references the Nuremburg defense) and one that I think the author believes, whether it is ultimately true or not. So, go see Waltzing with Bashir, and go see it in the theatre. It looked great, and the sound in particular was intense. And if all else fails, you can just wait for the giant naked woman. Something for everyone in this film! I'll end with a quote I heard a young woman say in the lobby after the film. "It was awful, but beautiful." Pretty much sums it up.
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