Waltz With Bashir (2008)


Second time with Ari Folman after The Congress with Stan.

Firstly, the animation. Made me think of the interludes in Mirror’s Edge because of the slightly puppet-like, non-fluid movement. However much more expressionist and printed. Able to slide between highly fantastical (John Woo slo-mo; overlapping imagery of destruction and adolescent army hedonism) and highly mimetic (distance images like the family lined up against the wall).

Ultimately the animation gets drawn into the movie’s questions about representation and witnessing, which are brought to a head at the very end when (like Come And See) the artifice falls away. AF today is a collaborative creator of the memory narratives related both by his interviewees and his own past self. At the centre of the film is his attempt to trace the provenance of a memory for which he can find no objective historical evidence. One professor of trauma studies tells him that a former interviewee managed to cope with the witnessed horrors by convincing himself that everything was playing out on a screen. (The rupture of this fantasy comes from seeing horses suffering around a bombed-out hippodrome; interesting points about the ethical status of animals) (The animation thus foregrounds and makes a talking point out of the setback that it sometimes [throughout] seems insufficient to convey the difficulty of the original experiences. Why is this any worse or better than live action staging?)

Returning trauma. Begins with an old friend questioning the new presence, in his dreams of 26 dogs, he shot on an expedition, 20 years after the fact. (“memory is a wilful dog”) AF goes on to question the mechanics of repression and representation (advised by therapists and psychologists). WwB touches on the (re)integration of aspects of the conflict into popular culture (clubs, punk music – most interestingly the abrupt interjection of ‘Enola Gay’ during a recollection about transport on a military ship, piercing Max Richter’s quite dynamic score.) The staggering victims of the central massacre are forced to reenter their bombed town and directly confront their losses. Ultimately his therapist theorises AF’s interest in the massacre as an anticipatory reaction inherited from his parents’ experience of Auschwitz. AF seems to interpellate societal memory of the massacre as his own personal hallucinations, seeing them from the perspective of the documentary footage that closes the film – a return which is most ethically urgent.

The contours of the 1982 Lebanese War context itself are traced informatively but adroitly – we aren’t bombarded with new information because that’s not the point, though this is fundamentally documentary in intention, and successful. Perhaps in Levi style, WwB is less accusatory than illustrative.

The central narrative is handled briskly and with appreciable development, but WwB brings in these peripheral topics and questions to an extent that is suggestive without being cursory. Leads to a very thought-provoking psychological and historical portrait of (a) war and memory.