Award-winning documentary recreates, animates early 80s Lebanese war

One of the best documentaries and frontrunner for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar, as well as Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Film, Waltz with Bashir splices the filmmaking world of animation and documentary to create an unforgettable film.
A pack of 26 zombie-like dogs rampage through a crowded street. They are outside the apartment of the man who killed them, stalking him and looking for revenge.
Though it sounds more like the intro to a horror film, this is how the documentary starts. It is a nightmare told to Ari Folman, the film’s director, that one of his army buddies consistently suffers from.
Folman was one of many Israeli men who were in Lebanon in the summer of 1982, when the Israeli defense forces pushed through the southern part of the country toward Beirut. Most of them were present when Christian militiamen slaughtered 3,000 civilians in order to avenge the death of Lebanon’s newly elected president, Bashir Germayel, who was assassinated days before.
The two men conclude that there is a connection between the dream and their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War in the early 80s. After finishing the conversation with his friend, Folman is haunted by a weird recollection of naked soldiers walking on the beach in Beirut as the city’s destroyed skyline is illuminated by flares.
This is the only memory that Folman has of his participation in the war. This sparks an interest in Folman as he decides to interview other soldiers that were with him at the time. As he interviews his army and anyone he knows who was involved with the Lebanon War, certain memories start to resurface in Folman’s mind.
Waltz with Bashir is unlike any documentary that I have seen as it feels like the story is told as a combat picture, such as Saving Private Ryan. Without spending a lot on realistic recreations, Folman recreates the stories told to him by his interviewees through animations that are vivid and surrealistic.
It is more fascinating watching the art that goes into recreating certain events in the Lebanon War, rather than the more common format known as talking-head documentaries that use photos and archival footage to support the documentary.
The animation used in this film is nothing new. This style of animation was used in Richard Linklater’s film Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly and Brett Morgan’s Chicago 10.
In order to create this odd and fascinating documentary, the collaboration of art director David Polinsky and director of photography Yoni Goodman allowed Folman to unravel the memories and bloodshed of the war he participated in.
Waltz with Bashir also brings you to question how well prepared the Israeli soldiers were for the Lebanon War.
For instance, a young group of soldiers storming the beach fire their guns at the first thing they see – a car occupied with a family of three. Another sequence of the film shows the young soldiers shooting off the canons on their tanks wildly despite not knowing why they do so.
The final sequence of the film is deprived of any animation. At the end, rolling graphic footage of the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps’ massacre show the moviegoer the impacting reality of what happened in the Lebanon War.
WALTZ WITH BASHIR: 5 stars out of 5

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