Thursday, 16 February 2017

World Animation: Israel - Waltz With Bashir

Often animated films are assumed to be bright, cheery, and aimed towards a younger audience. However, this is not always the case, even if it tends to be more uncommon. One example of this exception is Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir (2008). This film is incredibly unique and inventive as it recounts Folman's process of retrieving memories he has lost about his time as a an IDF soldier. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Folman was only about 19 years old. He attempts to get a grasp on his role in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila by interviewing his friends who were also in the army with him. They all appear to have difficulty recalling their memories, most likely due to traumatic nature of the event the guilt of possibly feeling like enablers of the massacre. "Vivid and horrifying events leading up to the massacres are disinterred by the movie's quas-fictional 'reconstructive' procedure, somewhere between oral history and psychoanalysis...Folman's confusion testifies to the fog of war, or perhaps the fact that this fog is created as a way of not facing up to war-guilt," (Bradshaw, 2008).

Fig 1. Waltz With Bashir (2008)

The opening of the film is perhaps the most striking and thrilling part of the film. It immediately sparks interest, immersion, and emotion. "It's a personal film, playing out as a kind of mystery, sparked by a bad dream. No opening shots here of rolling tanks, belching fire from their flattened heads. No thrum of propellers or burnt foliage to shock and draw us in. Instead we have a pack of snarling, red-eyed dogs, pelting through a city under an oppressive, mustard-gas sky, knocking down street furniture while mothers clutch their children in fear. As opening gambits go, this isn't just gripping: it throttles." (Jolin, 2008). This opening sequence sets the scene for the rest of the film as it uses complex, realistic animation combined with a graphic novel style to convey highly imaginative and dramatic events...both reality and dreams. This compelling sequence is a recurring dream that Folman's friend (and fellow ex-IDF soldier), Boaz, has been experiencing suddenly in relation to his experience in the Lebanon War.  Boaz asks Folman if he remembers anything from the Lebanon War, which causes him to realise that he cannot recall much of his life during this time. This is the catalyst of Folman's quest to recover the memories that he has buried deep within his mind.

Fig 2. 26 Dogs
The themes and stories presented in Waltz are serious and heavy. This is not a children's animated film in the slightest, and should not be treated or viewed as one. Some question the use of animation for such a serious topic as the Lebanon War or the Sabra and Shatila massacres. "It might smack a little of filmmaking therapy, but Folman relates the stories of those he interviews back to his own journey with respect and care. And it's important to emphasise such respect: when you're dealing with sensitive truths, with stories of men being ordered into darkness with no idea of why they're doing it; of the 'waltz' of the title, danced by one IDF soldier while firing down a Beirut street, then animation hardly seems the most 'respectful' medium," (Jolin, 2008). A film like this was always going to cause controversy, but it still demands respect for all those involved. This story delves into the struggles of soldiers suffering from PTSD, a result of war that is far more common than people would like to admit. This is why animation, in some people's eyes, is an appropriate medium.

It can be argued that this animated graphic-novel style animation represents Folman's detachment from the events he experienced as a young, teenage soldier. The animation not only allows for us to see the expressions of those being interviewed as you would in a live action documentary, but we are also able to see their memories and dreams, "Folman is an Israeli documentarian who has not worked in animation. Now he uses it as the best way to reconstruct memories, fantasies, hallucinations, possibilities, past and present. This film would be nearly impossible to make any other way. Animation will always be identified, no doubt, with funny animals, but is winning respect as a medium for serious subjects," (Ebert, 2009). Not only does animation allow the viewer to see what the individuals have experienced or dreamed, but it perhaps makes the explicit imagery more palatable for a wider audience.

This is interesting, however, as other films containing violence or war in a live action medium does not seem too extreme for many viewers. However, the way that film presents the dreams and flashbacks of the ex-soldiers makes the film emotionally dense...even with the animation it's hard to not feel an aura of dread, regret and guilt. "Perhaps there is something obscene about how jaded you get, but eventually you stop cowering beneath the onslaught up on screen and suppress a yawn as another missile turns a building to rubble, another bullet-wound fountains with blood. 'Desensitised' is the word. Yet I don't think anyone will be blasé after watching Waltz with Bashir," (Quinn, 2009). Perhaps the inventive use of gripping, trippy animation with a combination of different types of music keeps the different stories equally disturbing by refreshing the audience. Each story we hear is different, with different personalities playing part in the individuals reactions to war. Each one leads to the grim truth that Folman and many other soldiers took part in and/or witnessed, whether it was actively or passively.

Fig 3. Memories
Despite the realistic graphic novel aesthetic the film has for the majority of its running time - Folman gives the audience a stark, harrowing ending. Once Folman finally pieces together his memories of his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, the film abruptly switches from animation to real live-action footage of the results of the tragic slaughter that took place. There is no more smoke and mirrors, no more drawings, no more crazy dreams. This footage is real - of real people, real death, real suffering, "Waltz with Bashir has attracted a lot of attention and a measure of controversy, some of it surrounding the very last moments of the film, in which the animation stops and the audience is confronted with graphic, horrifying images of real dead bodies. This ending shows just how far Mr. Folman is prepared to go, not in service of shock for its own sake, but rather his pursuit of clarity and truth," (Scott, 2008). It is easy to see why this footage would cause controversy, it is a difficult thing to see. However, it is the honest, bare bones of war and its impact on both the dead and the living. This proves that animation is not always for children, it can be used for a wide range of more serious topics - including PTSD, war, and dealing with your past.

Bradshaw, P. (2008) Waltz With Bashir At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Calhoun, D. (2008) Waltz with Bashir At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Ebert, R. (2009) Waltz with Bashir At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Horne, P. (2009) Waltz with Bashir DVD, review At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Jolin, D. (2008) Waltz With Bashir Review At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Quinn, J. (2009) Waltz With Bashir (18) At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Scott, A.O. (2008) Inside a Veteran's Nightmare At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Waltz With Bashir [Poster] At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Figure 2. 26 Dogs [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017
Figure 3. Memories [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 16/2/2017

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