My last movie review of the season:
Waltz with Bashir, the new Israeli film about the 1982 war in Lebannon, belongs to a relatively rare genre: the animated documentary. It claims to be the first in the genre, and it may be the only full length example, although there have been some notable predecessors, including Chris Landreth’s Oscar-winning short film Ryan, a touching portrait of animator Ryan Larkin, and the recent documentary film Chicago 10, a partially animated account of the protests during the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Folman uses the technique well, bringing to life the dreams and memories of his fellow soldiers, as told in recorded interviews. The film is a despairing account of very young men lost in the wilderness of battle, depicted in stark colors.
The focus event is a massacre in which thousands of Palestinians in West Beirut were murdered by the Lebanese Christian Phalangist forces, following the assassination of Bachir Gemayal, a Christian elected to be the next Lebanese President. Folman has lost his own memories of the massacre, and he is dependent on his fellows to answer the question: was he complicit? The implied question beyond that, of course, is whether Israel was complicit in an event that had disturbing parallels to the mass killings of the Holocaust.
By animating his documentary, Folman makes the soldiers’ memories both vivid and yet in some ways unreliable – we see the artifice, and that extra level of distance lets us wonder what is a real memory and what is a manufactured memory made to fill a hole created by trauma and guilt. Like many modern documentarians, Folman gives us truth shaded by fiction. Are these the actual soldiers whose voices we hear? In most cases yes, but a quick look at the credits reveals that actors were also used to create the voices for the more reluctant participants.
Does this make the truths of the film less valid? Perhaps, if the main purpose of the film had been to be an investigative report into the causes of the massacre. But Folman’s main story is his own, and whether we are seeing pure facts or those facts are shaded by fiction, the inner truth of a man struggling to reconcile himself with his past is the undeniable heart of this very personal film.