Waltz with Bashir movie poster
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Waltz with Bashir movie poster

Waltz with Bashir Movie Review

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This has been the week of the war movie, as I've been stunned by not one but two great films in the last few days - and they couldn't be any more different in their tone and approach.  The American-made The Hurt Locker was one of those movies, and the other is Waltz with Bashir, the Oscar-nominated Isreali documentary/drama that redefines whatever genre it belongs to.

Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir) is about writer/director Ari Folman's exploration of his forgotten past. A modern-day filmmaker who, at 19, served in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Folman doesn't remember anything about his time in the war, or, more specifically, his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, where hundreds or perhaps thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were slaughtered at the hands of soldiers and militiamen. After meeting an old war buddy for a drink, however, he begins to have flashbacks and decides to set out, interview his friends and former soldiers and regain his memory.

Waltz with Bashir is a daring collection of war stories and narrative around Folman's experiences. It is both a war drama and a documentary, a unique blend that utilizes the interviews of real people with reenactments of the past. Most notably, this documentary is animated in a graphic novel-esque way, a dreamscape of detailed, hand-drawn settings and characters combined with surrealistic, not-quite-fluid movement. Frankly, there's nothing like else it.

I haven't been a big fan of rotoscoping (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly) or CGI painting (Beowulf, The Polar Express), as I'd much prefer to see live-action stories than "cartoons." Waltz with Bashir doesn't use either of these techniques, but the final product is similar in that there is a serious, adult story made into animation. Nonetheless, Waltz with Bashir strikes that rare, perfect balance of drama, narrative and visual style, where one doesn't overwhelm the other. Folman shows unique restraint in accomplishing this, and yet Waltz with Bashir is one of the most creative films ever made.

Most importantly, though, the story that Waltz with Bashir is shocking and memorable. Despite being animated, the movie captures a constant sense of dread and out-of-body awareness as Folman traverses through the Israeli-Lebanon conflict in 1982. Each individual nugget of a story, in turn, builds tension toward the climax, a mysterious black hole in Folman's memory. When the climax arrives, the result is emotional shock. When Folman switches to true documentary footage for the final minute of the film, it is breathtaking.

Waltz with Bashir is an excellent war movie and unique documentary, unlike anything we've seen before. Highly recommended.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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