Thursday, June 25, 2009

Vals Im Bashir

I've been waiting almost a year to Waltz With Bashir, and it finally came out on video. I'm thrilled to report that it did not disappoint. It has elicited many comparisons to Persepolis from a few years ago. Both brought unique animation styles, both were documentary-esque, but most importantly- both were stellar films.

Bashir is about director Ari Folman trying to unearth repressed memories about his time in the Israeli army when they invaded Lebanon in 1982. He accomplishes this through a series of interviews with other soldiers that served with him. Of specific concern to him, and the true fuel for his quest was the desire to remember his role in the taking of Beirut and the massacres at Sabra and Shatilia, supposedly sparked by the assassination of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel (hence the title of the film). As Folman talks with more people, his memories slowly start to come back, until he can finally see those fateful days in Beirut.

This is a powerful movie about what otherwise good people do in war. It's interesting seeing a conflicted Folman want to find out what happened, but scared to find out what he did. All of this was sparked by one of his friends who was being haunted by dreams of dogs he killed during the war. Folman then started likewise being haunted by his own dreams (or lack thereof).

The animation is the most unique feature of the movie- of course. It was primarily done with cutout animation in Flash (with no rotoscoping- they made that very clear on the bonus features). The rendering style, and the cutout animation give the impression of a comic book in motion. I'm confident that this movie would work just as well if it were a graphic novel instead. At first the animation bothered me a little, because it's all very slow and kind of robotic. It's as if the characters are floating through some kind of liquid. Eventually I grew used to this because it seemed to fit with the dream like nature of the film.

The music played an incredibly important role in this film. Each scene it seemed was paired perfectly which a wide range of music- from gritty rock to classical. The musical choices greatly influenced the feel of the scenes. The titular Waltz came from a dreamlike scene of a soldier dodging bullets in a ballet under the watchful eye of building sized banners of Bashir- all set to a Chopin waltz. Other scenes of soldiers goofing off amid gunfire, or time lapsed warfare going on in the distance to original rock songs about bombing Lebanon were reminiscent of scenes like surfing in Apocalypse Now, or the latter half of Full Metal Jacket. The juxtaposition of the music and the atrocities being met with nonchalance typify the stoic acceptance that these are just the realities of war.

This is a wonderful movie in all aspects. The illustrations are far better than the actual animation, but the animation itself is acceptable given the context. The story itself is power, as Forman tries to find the answers that he may not actually want to know.


No comments: