Thursday, 5 February 2009

Waltz with Bashir

From the opening Waltz With Bashir is surreally brutal. A dark, wet cityscape and loud pounding industrial music hits you in a nightmare scenario, as a pack of vicious dogs gallop unmercifully through the streets, scattering bystanders as they pursue their prey.

Slick yet eerie, the Israeli animated documentary pioneers a new form of animation that deals with very real subject matter. Writer, director and producer Ari Folman documented his personal experience trying to reignite missing parts of his memory, holes from during the first Lebanon war of the early 80s. He was there; he fought and probably killed for Israel; but he can't actually remember the details, so he interviews his old friends and comrades to try and fill the gaps.

Made initially as a real video based on a 90 page script, shot in a sound studio and cut as a 90 minute video film. It was then made into a storyboard and drawn into 2300 illustrations. Invented in Folman’s studio “Bridgit Folman Film Gang”, by the director of animation Yani Goodman, the technique is a combination of Flash animation, classic animation and 3D.

“It’s important for me to make clear that by all means this film was not made by rotoscope animation,” Folman has stressed, “Meaning that we did not illustrate and paint over real video. We drew it again from scratch with the great talent of the art director David Polonsky and his three assistants.”

The stylised animation makes everything hyper-real, drenched in colour, moving dream-like to the brilliant soundtrack - a combination of Max Richter’s classical scoring and Israeli rock n roll and post punk tunes from the 80s. While scenes of combat are graphic, it is the repetition striking and surreal imagery that pinpoints the futility and emotional dislocation of war. As a younger Ari walks zombie-like through war torn Lebanon, his posture slumped eyes vacant. His comrades who’s stories each personifies a unique reaction to the indescribable mayhem. The hardcore military character, whose Zen yet cold approach to warfare sees him launch into a balletic shooting spree.

What makes Waltz with Bashir different from the rising tide of well-meaning war films is how its visuals lead up to a specific - and devastating - conclusion.

The final 10 seconds which show real footage from the remnants of the Sabra and Shatila massacre are incredibly impactful. Where blood and guts war films only further desensitise us to the brutality of war, Waltz with Bashir takes us through graphic yet surreal scenes, so that the last seconds of real footage hit that much harder.

“War is so useless it’s unbelievable. It’s nothing like what you’ve seen in the American movies. No glam, no glory. Just very young men going nowhere, shooting at noone they know, then going home and trying to forget. Sometimes they can. Most of the time they cannot.” Waltz with Bashir opens in cinemas November 21

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