Written, directed, and starring Ari Folman, Vals Im Bashir (Waltz with Bashir) is an animated documentary film about Folman’s experience during the Lebanon war of 1982 as an Israeli soldier. The film is told in an animated style reminiscent of surreal animated films of Richard Linklater’s 2001 film Waking Life and 2006’s A Scanner Darkly. Yet, it allows Folman to speak with other soldiers about the war that included an infamous Sabra and Shatila massacre. The result is a harrowing yet visually-mesmerizing film from Ari Folman.
Ari Folman talks to his friend Boaz Rein-Buskila (Miki Leon) about old memories he had during the 1982 war at Lebanon as Ari recalls the lone memory he has of he and two soldiers walking out of a beach and into Beirut. Turning to his friend Ori Sivan, Sivan suggests talking to old friends and fellow soldiers about the war. Ari visits Carmi Cna’an (Yehezkel Lazarov) in the Netherlands about the war as he is in Ari’s lone memory as he remembers a night when he was on a boat as he hallucinated about escaping the boat with a naked woman as it blew up.
Later talking to other soldiers including Ronny Dayag and Shmuel Frenkel about their own experiences in war. Ari recalls some of his own memories which he’s not sure are real as he turns to war psychologist Zahava Solomon about the traumas of war. When he visits Carmi again about Beirut and later talking to Boaz about life after combat, where both men admit its difficulties for a while, Ari ponders more about his hallucination. Frenkel talks about Beirut where news reporter Ron Ben-Yishai was there covering the Beirut battle. Ari gets Ben-Yishai to talk as did a former tank brigade commander Dror Harazi about the horror of the Sabra and Shatila massacre as Ari believes he may have played a part in what happened.
The film is about a man trying to recall memories of a war he took part as he turns to old friends, soldiers, and various other people about the war. What happens is that the people Ari Folman interviews for this unconventional documentary, with two actors re-playing a couple of individuals, reveal not just the horror of war. It’s also about the aftermath of war along with the idea that Ari Folman might have taken part in something that is more horrifying.
Since Folman is using animation to present his documentary, there is a bit of a dreamlike quality to the look of the animation by illustrator David Polonsky and animation director Yoni Goodman. From the way the buildings looked in Israel, the Netherlands, and in Beirut circa-1982 to the design of the characters. Folman’s direction is very entrancing in its composition and the way he moves the camera around. There’s even some dark humor to some of the things that happen such as the song choices he uses to encompass the silliness of war. Yet, Folman keeps things real as far as depicting war such as Dayag’s experience about being a tank engineer and having to evade bullets.
Folman use of surreal images such as Cna’an’s hallucination as well as Folman’s own to display the sense of fantasy and blocked memories the characters are dealing with. While the film plays like a traditional dramatic narrative, the interviews do come across in a documentary presentation even though it remains in animated form. By the third act where the narrative focuses on the Sabra and Shatila massacre, it becomes a much more harrowing film where the last two minutes are definitely the most terrifying images presented on film. Folman creates what isn’t just a compelling documentary but also a visually-powerful film that breaks the notion of what a documentary can be.
Editor Nili Feller does an amazing job with the editing to create a fluid yet methodical pace to the film while creating various styles to move the film including slow-motion for some of the action scenes. Sound designer Aviv Aldema does a superb job with the sound work in mixing and cutting the dialogue told in the interviews while recreating the sounds of gunshots and cannon to bring the idea of war.
The music by Max Richter is truly mesmerizing for its chilling score to complement the sense of wonderment of Folman‘s character with some orchestral and electronic pieces for some the battle scenes. The rest of the soundtrack is a mix of an array of music from the early 80s such as OMD and Public Image Ltd. along with songs by Cake, the Clique, and a classical piece from Johann Sebastian Bach.
Vals Im Bashir is a powerful documentary film from Ari Folman that depicts the horror of war through the use of surreal animation. Audiences intrigued by war and history will no doubt see this as a compelling piece about the Israeli-Lebanese conflict of 1982. While it is, not surprisingly, controversial about the views of soldiers and people about what happened in Beirut. It is a film that is told from people who were there as well as why they’re reluctant to tell about what happened. In the end, Vals Im Bashir is an eerie yet evocative film from Ari Folman.
© thevoid99 2011