No documentary was more polarizing upon its release than Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” – nor more profitable.
Waltz with Bashir
…because the animated documentary tells a politically charged story from a personal standpoint. Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman used interviews, archival materials and hand drawn animation to depict his own experience as a young soldier in the 1982 Lebanon War. Blending fact with fictionalized material, the documentary questions the ideas of memories and objective truth. At the same time, "Waltz with Bashir" actually presents a less biased account of the controversial invasion and wartime atrocities than most journalism on the subject.
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Documentaries that deal with political subjects often brush with propaganda – just ask Michael Moore. And as far as political topics go, nothing is as sure to break up a party as a discussion of the conflict between Israel, Palestine and the Arab states. Among the most controversial events in the modern history of this strife is Israel’s invasion of Lebanon at the height of that country’s prolonged civil war in 1982. In addition to all these hot buttons, Folman himself was a soldier who fought in the Israeli Army during the 1982 Lebanon War. Yet Folman’s whole attempt with making "Waltz with Bashir" is to reach a greater understanding of his own involvement in this politically charged mire. Instead of forming an opinion, he presents his journey towards self-awareness as a series of conversations with friends and former soldiers set to animation. Whereas a filmmaker like Moore has a definite political message he’s advocating, Folman is more of an essayist, allowing the audience to form its own interpretation of the facts. The incorporation of differing memories also raises important questions about history and individual observation, suggesting that nothing is ever as clear as we believe it to be. Yet the film also comes to the realization that subjective accounts inevitably form the basis for the accepted truths that drive societies and cultures.
As suggested by the title, music plays a central role in "Waltz with Bashir." Max Richter’s original electronic score suggests some of the popular dance music of the time period, while also lending itself to the often dreamlike qualities the film creates in its account. The film also incorporates popular songs from the time period as a way to further contribute to authenticity. However, there are also more contemporary songs like the artist Navadei Haucaf’s “Good Morning Lebanon” which was composed specifically for the film, as well as a reinterpretation of Cake’s “Korea” as “Beirut” by Zeev Tene, which serves as a way to link the past to the present day of Folman’s film. And then of course there is the waltz of the title, which describes a scene in which one of Folman’s commanders remembers dancing with his machine gun in the midst of a firefight, which Folman sets to Chopin. The timeless quality of the music blurs the specific setting of the event as it’s remembered, creating a surreal artistic effect in the moment (and remember, it’s all animated too). Again, the choice of music here – as well as the other classical selections from Bach and Schubert – serves to reinforce the film’s central theme about the nature of truth as it relates to memory and the past.
What separates "Waltz with Bashir" from pretty much every other documentary out there is Folman’s decision to animate the sequences. In a sense, the use of animation conveys the idea that the audience is discovering the story along with Folman himself. However, it also provides a visual style that suggests the overall themes of the film. Any documentary or non-fiction film that attempts to recreate the past always deals with the issue of reenactment, but here, the animation plays a contradictory role by creating an even further separation from reality while also reinforcing the depicted memories with as much accuracy as possible. While the animation sometimes has a similar appearance to rotoscoping, in which the artists draw over live-action footage, Folman and his team actually took a different approach. Instead, they sketched insanely detailed cutouts based on the live action interviews, then combined Flash animation with traditional hand-drawn techniques to give "Waltz with Bashir" its unique look. As opposed to rotoscoping, this technique suggests that nothing is ever a simple presentation of reality.
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Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War StoryBuy now $6
Waltzing with Bashir: Perpetrator Trauma and Cinema (International Library of the Moving Image)Buy now $110