The opening scene with wild dogs all fire-eyed and snarling running through the streets in a dream sequence recounted by Folman's pal is an effective set up. The dream jars the director's vague recollection about his possible involvement in a massacre/slaughter/battle/conflict, prompting him to regain his repressed memory.
Investigating his past, Folman tries to regain his memory while conducting interviews that meld flashbacks, hallucinatory dreams, personal and political anecdotes with weird newsreel-like footage. The actual voices of interviewees narrate the animated reenactments. We then delve into the atrocities via characters that come and go, as well as discussions with psychiatrists, soldiers and friends all assisting the director's quest. The focus is on clearing the foggy remembrance of what transpired during the 1982 massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon where Folman served as a soldier during Israel's invasion of Beirut and, more specifically, the massacres of Palestinian civilians in the camps by the Christian Phalangist Militia.
The film's strange animation is closer to Christian Volckman's Renaissance and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis than Richard Linklater's Waking Life/Scanner Darkly ilk. Aesthetically, Bashir is more German expressionism meets Speed Racer. Folman used a combination of Flash animation, traditional hand-drawn images, and computer-enhanced 3-D, with select computerized images serving as background enhancement. I admit that I grew tired of the animated interviewees. It would have been more compelling and less disingenuous to see the interviews as real footage, adding a nice transition to the interlocking tales.
The choice of music is phenomenal. We hear PiL's "This is Not a Love Song" and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Enola Gay" to strange folk ballads like "Good Morning Lebanon" by Max Richter and "Incubator" by Clique. The film's one comical moment was when a soldier was fixatedly watching porn (zeroing in on the adventures of an Israeli plumber) while relating his tragic tale.
On the other hand, some Bashir's more harrowing moments will come back to haunt you. A Lebanese family ends up bullet riddled only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the scene that gives the film its title: an apparently bulletproof soldier waltzes with his machine gun blazing in front of a huge poster of Bashir.
Waltz is a disturbing comment on war and its consequences, for the countries and the people of both sides. The surreal touches, tension filled war scenes and dream sequences are arranged with simplistic restraint letting the unsettling information sink in. This film has a definite emphasis on the personal viewpoint, focusing on what individual soldiers experienced and the lasting impact of how those memories affect them. The horrific reality of war, and how the ensuing fear, and later guilt can distort and even relinquish all perception and memory is the film's strongest message. After some unnecessary plodding, Waltz with Bashir culminates in real footage of the much discussed death of innocent people, leaving us with a sobering, empty space and plenty of time to think.
Waltz With Bashir ★★★✩✩
Written and directed by Ari Folman. Rated R