Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Saturday, October 11, 2008

06:30:52 pm , 760 words, 1420 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

Waltz with Bashir

At the VIFF this year, the two films that most impressed me were, ironically, the only two animated films I saw: Takashi Ishida's Film of the Sea and Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir. I think the two make a good pairing, representing on one hand animation in its purest and most abstract form, and on the other animation as a vehicle for meaningful narrative.

Waltz with Bashir is an awesome achievement that needs to be seen by anyone who considers themselves interested in the art and possibilities of animated filmmaking. Heck, everyone should see it. It's a powerful film with a profound message about war, and the soldiers who fight it. This film is that rare thing - an animated film that means something, that has even the remotest relevance to the world today and the events that shape our times, exploring them through great artistry in a way that expands our understanding of those events. I believe people want to see films like these that explore these tough issues in a way that sheds light on the darkness of humanity, in the hope that light is the best antidote. In many ways, the world seems increasingly hard to understand today. This film attacks a conflict that many of us, or at least I, still don't really understand. It's not a film that provides the key to understanding the conflict, as it isn't so much about the larger picture of the reasons for the conflict as the experience of the soldiers on the ground. From my position, failure to address that nagging question is something I came away wondering about, but that's not what the film is about, and I think it actually gains strength as a film by allowing us to live the experience first-hand and make our own decisions, rather than coming across an an educational film. In any case, this film proves that animated filmmaking can be the means to explore these issues.

The documentary form has in recent years been acting as an interesting catalyst enriching our approaches to animated filmmaking, with documentaries like In the Realms of the Unreal and The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam incorporating animation to add a vivid new dimension to the narrative, and at the other end of the scale, fully animated films like Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's A Room Nearby adopting a quasi-documentary style where narrators' stories are elaborated in animation that mixes the real with animated freedom. Waltz with Bashir is perhaps the first fully animated film that can be called a documentary, rather than just a documentary with bits of animation. It has to be seen to be believed, but they really succeed in pulling off the feat of creating an animated documentary, which at first blush sounds rather self-contradictory: How can an animated film be a documentary?

The film is Ari Folman's quest to discover the truth about his past as a young soldier involved in the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982. That quest leads him, and the now far-strung comrades he seeks out in different corners of the globe to interview, to re-live the experience through their memories, in the process probing some tough questions about responsibility in war and illuminating how different people cope with the traumas of war. At every moment, the film exploits the possibilities of the medium of animation to enhance and interpret the stories of the soldiers, and the main thread of the director's quest, through visuals alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) beautiful and harrowing, in the process painting a multilayered canvas with many different levels of meaning.

Ari Folman has succeeded in creating a deeply felt and almost overwhelming exploration of the experience of war, or rather (and importantly) a culturally and historically specific conflict, that will have an immense impact on any viewer, while also being consistently innovative and effective on the formal and visual level. The film is innovative, seemingly effortlessly so, but it's also a powerful and moving film. That combination is quite an achievement. There is a certain unique sort of insight into this important event that comes from using a poetic/animated approach to relate events in the real world. Without revealing anything, I admire particularly the uncompromising and devastating way the film chooses to close, without seguing back to the style of the film to soften the blow, but closing right there, on those images. They bring the viewer back down to the reality from which the film was inspired. I think they will be forever seared into the mind of most viewers.



h_park [Member]

Thanks for bring it up. I watched a trailer of the film few months ago and I forgotten all about it. I guess I was too engrossed with technical matters, and not paying attention to underlying subject matters. Ben, Do you know anything about Israeli animated films? I’m getting curious.

10/14/08 @ 12:29
andrew osmond
andrew osmond [Visitor]  

Hello, this is Andrew from England. Bashir is a fine film (it had an extended standing ovation at the Annecy festival this summer). Of course, it might also be linked to Persepolis, another very serious (if more humorous) animation about the Middle East that has helped reshape mainstream ideas about what ‘cartoon movies’ can do.

Apologies, I have a private query but I’ve lost your email address - please could you contact my email? Many thanks.

10/15/08 @ 03:36
Ben [Member]  

H Park - I admit that when I first started watching the film there were moments when I thought that the expressions on the faces seemed a little too static, but I quickly got over that. The visuals were otherwise very effective, and I found this film to be much more imaginative in its use of animation than a film like, say, A Scanner Darkly. Unfortunately, I am totally ignorant about Israeli animation. I can’t even remember having seen an animated film from Israel before this one. Google turns up some shorts, and suggests that there is definitely an animation industry there, with several studios and schools and even a yearly festival in Tel Aviv. But still, I get the feeling this film is unusual and kind of seminal for their industry. (though it’s not actually a fully Israeli-produced - it’s a European co-production) This blog even seems to suggest that Bashir is in fact one of the first Israeli feature-length animated films ever (alongside $9.99), though there might be various technical caveats to that.

10/16/08 @ 15:46
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

Thanks for bringing this up. I don’t have any ability to see the film where I am right now, but I will certainly keep an eye out and look for it, if it ever comes to where I live.

As Andrew mentioned, ‘Persepolis’ is another good look at the real world through the medium of animation, again focusing on that region of the world (Iran) and using the details of the true life of the director. I’m sure you’re probably already familiar with ‘Persepolis,’ but I thought I should bring it up just in case. And, although it’s not been animated, there’s also the graphic novel ‘Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea’ by Guy Delisle, which deals with his experiences in that country while, ironically enough, overseeing animation outsourcing to the SEK (the state animation studio). So yeah, occasionally there are projects, both animated and illustrated, that take up the issues of the real world in a moving and heartfelt way. I only wish we could see more works like this, and more often.

10/19/08 @ 01:28
pete [Member]

I managed to watch the movie at last in Hebrew with English subs. I watched the movie mainly for the artistic quality and the humanism it tries to convey and not the political messages, because a lot of events are omitted that confuse the viewers.

But making a feature about the situation in the Middle East is a daunting task for any medium.

I read though that the US release had an edited scene: the one where the soldier fantasizes a naked woman. In US version she was clad with a bikini!

Probably they edited also the porn scene.

If it was nominated for Oscar, I hope it was not based on the edited version.

06/15/09 @ 12:39