Cannes '08: Ari Folman's 'Waltz With Bashir' commands positive notices
"Bashir" is Folman's strangely engrossing animated film told from an Israeli soldier's point of view as he tries 20 years after combat to cull the memories of his friends in order to reclaim his own squelched recollections of war.
The film gets off to a rough start with some ungainly animation sequences -- specifically a pack of running dogs that never quite makes ground contact then dies gasping, slobbering histrionic deaths -- followed by a few long sections of expository and psychologizing when animated visuals might do the heavy lifting more gracefully.
Yet excursions into a falafel scion's memory of riding a "love boat" into battle -- mixed with an avowed non-hero's struggle with "who abandoned whom?" after his regiment came under fire and he was left to fend for himself -- are so consuming that the stiff mechanics of Rotoscope-style storytelling recede to the background.
Folman's basic message is hardly unfamiliar: No good can come from a bunch of frightened, disoriented boys carrying far too much live ammo. But most of us have yet to see the particulars of this conflict (culminating in the 1982 massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps), nor have we been privvy to the nuanced and guilt-ridden memories of its perpetrators/survivors. The storytelling is lumpy and misshapen, but the film's shocking ending is as affecting as it is abrupt.
Here's what a few critics and pundits have written about Folman's film:
Screen Daily: Ari Folman's animated documentary could easily turn out to be one of the most powerful statements of this Cannes and will leave its mark forever on the ethics of war films in general. ... This is not only a tremendously potent antiwar movie but also a formidable moral indictment of Israeli conduct at that time.
Guardian: This film is remarkable, for one, in the very fact that it exists at all: It is a mea culpa, created by someone intimately connected with events. Director (and central figure) Ari Folman doesn't attempt to evade, soft-pedal or make excuses. He presents the film as therapy; his own attempt to recover the blocked memories of what actually happened. In doing so, he himself makes an explicit connection between the death camps Jews had fled in Europe, and the refugee camps in which Palestinians were housed and brutalised in Lebanon. Folman isn't pulling any punches.
Cinematical: Where Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" (to which this film will be inevitably, if somewhat inaccurately, compared) used stark black-and-white animation based on Satrapi's graphic novels to tell the history of one girl growing up during the Iranian revolution, "Waltz With Bashir" uses vivid, hand-drawn animation to bring to life interviews Folman conducted with friends who were involved in the Lebanese war in the early 1980s to bring to life harrowing memories of death, guilt and regret.
Variety: A subject that might, had it been made conventionally, have repped just another docu about a war atrocity, is transmuted via novel use of animation into something special, strange and peculiarly potent in "Waltz With Bashir." ... Although less immediately accessible than "Persepolis," another mature-aud-skewed cartoon with which this is bound to be compared, "Bashir" could dance nimbly round arthouse niches offshore.
-- Sheigh Crabtree
Image courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival
Photo: Ari Folman at the photo call for "Waltz with Bashir" in Cannes on Thursday.