Waltz with Bashir (2009)

Another TSL review. I really enjoyed writing this one. A very beautiful film.

The chasm of memory.

Near the start of Ari Folman’s utterly exquisite Waltz with Bashir, a man recounts a vivid recurring nightmare in which twenty-six dogs gnash furiously at his heels. The dream, he explains, emerges from his traumatic experience during the Lebanese wars of 1982, in which Israeli forces allowed the massacre of Palestinian refugees. He shot twenty-six dogs in order to silence their warning barks and attack a defenseless village undetected.

Waltz with Bashir grips its viewers with the same panicked disorientation and throbbing pain delivered by an unexpected animal attack. The film is explosive in its visual impact and sharp critique of constructed national history. Folman attempts to explore the mechanisms of guilt, both personal and public; through an amalgamation of personal and retold memories, written accounts, and imagined occurences, he constructs a dreamlike journey through a very real event which has since been forcibly forgotten by the Israeli people. The Sabra and Chatila massacres, as they were called, are elevated from hazy flashbacks to ornate landscapes and extended, detailed dialogue and battle sequences.

With a seemingly dull palette of sour yellows and dismal greys, the animated style evokes an edgy surrealism without losing its ground in reality. While Waltz with Bashir -initially seems to be located within the “serious-matters-told-whimsically” tradition of Persepolis, the film is in fact more closely related to Waking Life. It is not a narrative but a meditation, not a caricature of reality but a slight and disturbing distortion of it. Body movements are as fluid as the liquid-like surfaces of clouds and seas, and tiny highlights and shadows glimmer even in the looming structures of buildings. Watching this film feels like lucid dreaming: it demonstrates how deeply the distressed mind can ingrain images, and how actual events become blurry in favor of recalling countless simple details.

Folman’s film fiercely interrogates the practice of shoving the shameful under the rug. He traces his own inability to recall the concrete happenings of the massacre to the government of Israel’s refusal to admit full fault and flesh out historical realities. He also demonstrates significant empathy, however, in recognizing the raw wounds created on both sides and the resultant rampant guilt which spawned such a determined erasure of history.

Waltz with Bashir will pour its bitter colors into your mind to steep for days. This film is devastating, beautiful, and most importantly, humble. It is first and foremost a rumination, not a scathing declaration or piteous lament. It opens the chasm of memory to reveal that the thoughts and dreams that one experiences after an event are just as real and valid as the event itself. Folman is desperately aware that the history Israel recounts in the media and to its people are inextricably bound with the history he cannot escape in his dreams.

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