Waltz with Bashir is extraordinary in terms of its originality and representation of war... An animated biographical war documentary drama takes an Israeli director on a journey to reconstruct and clarify the events of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon from the accounts of fellow veterans. The magnitude of such an investigation, the repercussions of such a repressive recovery and the flood of memories that accompany such an introspective film must be nothing short of horrifying, but Waltz with Bashir is different. War is war and soldiers only seem to readjust to some extent, by instigating some sort of buffer to numb the pain and block the vivid sights and sounds of their hellish experiences.
This is probably why Ari Folman decided to represent the film with animation, rather than trying to recreate the imagery in live-action. Firstly, animation is art, which helps to translate emotion and harness the essence of past events. Secondly, graphic representations of war are heightened by this surreal quality and simultaneously numbed by "pictures", rather than real footage and finally, the foreign film's budget would've had to have been in the vicinity of Saving Private Ryan to add a decent level of authenticity to the visuals.
Folman's film encounters many different personalities, who all seem equally affected by their involvement in the invasion. The animation affords the interviewees a level of anonymity and also allows them to speak as they see fit in response to Folman, as he recounts his dreams and lasting images from the time. The animation is beautiful, surreal and lyrical in its own way, gently lifting spirits with its warm hues and subduing us with its darker tones. On the whole, it's a haunting and harrowing experience... embued with great power and translated with much passion.
One is reminded of the live-action animation of A Scanner Darkly as the war memoirs and down-to-earth interviews flicker across the screen. In Hollywood terms, it's comparable with Vietnam and its affect on US war veterans as they tried to wrap their heads around the pointlessness of it all. The rock and pop songs carry the Zeitgeist of 1982 and nostalgia echoes for the audience, possibly reminding them where they were at the time of the invasion.
War memoirs, artistic nudity, vivid dreams, pornography... Waltz with Bashir is like a bad LSD trip at times, a pop culture hallucination filled with dreams and nightmares. There are real people behind these on screen titles and personas, who were just 19 and unaware of the impact their involvement would have on the lives of those they destroyed and on themselves psychologically. These are just some of the painful truths that emerge in this difficult film as Folman's vision of soldiers rising from the sea to walk upon the land reappear until he is able to make sense of it.
The film trudges onward like a tumbrel at times with its awkward historical subject matter and intermittent interviews. There's just so much to absorb and the film-makers have probably slowed the animation down intentionally like David Lynch does with dialogue to elevate the dream quality of the visuals. This may prove tiresome for some, while the war in Lebanon may not resonate strongly enough for the "unaffected". There's a specific audience for Waltz with Bashir, which is narrowed even further by its subtitles, animated medium and geographical specificity. While some will call it a masterpiece, others will leave halfway through the film.
Waltz with Bashir is not an easy, pleasant or enjoyable as far as entertainment value goes. However, it is an important film that pushes the bounds of animation and addresses the tragedy of war like a poem. This ambitious production is made all the more real by the voices, the stories and the involvement of someone, who was there. It's a beautiful confession, a shining realisation and a powerful condemnation of war... which will linger on long after the credits roll. It'll affect everyone differently, but after reading this movie review, you'll know if it's a film you need to see.
The bottom line: Mesmerising.