Waltz with Bashir (2008) is a powerful animated documentary about an Israeli veteran’s memories of the 1982 Lebanon War. It is a highly personable and original work by filmmaker Ari Folman, who was a 19 year old infantry soldier in the war. In a conversation with a friend, Ari realizes that he has little or no memory of his service in the war. Then, the next night, he has a flashback of the war, but it makes no sense. This sends him on a quest to remember what he did in the war and to come to terms with whatever it was. The film is powerful and difficult to watch, much more realistic about the horrors and mundanities of war than a Hollywood film. The animation gives the whole story a “fever dream” feel — just as Ari has trouble telling what is real, so does the viewer. Also, by portraying the most horrible memories in animated drawings, they are made (barely) watchable. The only live footage in the film comes at the end of the film; it is film from the BBC of the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila camps after the massacre there.
When Folman was asked why he made the film, he replied that in most Hollywood war films, people get the idea that either war is grand, or that war is horrible but the people fighting in them are heroes. He said that if one adolescent would see the film and understand that he did not want to be anyone in that film, he had succeeded.
One of the most amazing things about this film is that not only was it made in Israel by the man in the story, it received support from The New Israeli Foundation for Cinema & T.V. and the Israel Film Fund. The film is a scathing indictment of Israeli leadership during the war, and it says a great deal about freedom of speech in Israel that it was made and released in theaters there and abroad.
Some critics have said that it does not go far enough in taking responsibility for the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. My own feeling is that it is one soldier’s memories of his own participation in the war, terrible memories that he pursued with courage, and that it does not pretend to be anything more than one private’s point of view.
This movie is not for little children; it earns its R rating both for sex and for violence.