Waltz With Bashir

MPAA rating: R
Genre: Documentary, Animated, Foreign
Former Israeli soldier Ari Folman uses animation to create a documentary about his experience during the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war.
Starring: Ari Folman, Ori Sivan, Roni Dayag, Shmuel Frenkel, Ron Ben Yisahi, Dror Harazi, Boaz Rein Buskila, Carmi Cna'an
Director: Ari Folman
Running time: 1:30
Release: Opened Dec 25, 2008
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Editorial Review

Regardless of how grim a cartoon, it's somehow still connected to the brighter side of childhood. Which is why the animated Israeli documentary "Waltz With Bashir" is as devious and subversive as it is brilliant and nightmarish.

Directed by Ari Folman, the film tells the story of the September 1982 massacres at Sabra and Shatila. There, Christian Phalangists, avenging the assassination of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel, executed Palestinian men, women and children. Israeli defense forces knew what was going on, and, for two days, did nothing to stop it. (Israel's then-defense minister, Ariel Sharon, was forced to resign.)

Twenty years after the massacres, Folman has blocked the war from his memory. Only when his friend Boaz tells him about a recurring dream does Folman start to ask himself questions. Was he at Sabra and Shatila? Why can't he remember? What is meant by the memories he does have? And are they his?

Craftily, the details of Sabra and Shatila unfold, via interviews Folman does with his old army buddies, who are rendered, like Folman, animated, via the process known as rotoscoping, which transforms photographic footage into cartoon. It's not slick: Folman chooses rather roughened rotoscoping imagery, his characters floating in space, unmoored and eerie, the sense of dread and impending doom made almost unbearable by Max Richter's haunting score.

"Bashir" is a thinking person's horror movie, about real horror and horrifying echoes: The parallels between the Holocaust and the massacres are pronounced.

Nightmares don't need special effects. Anyone who has woken up in a sweat knows it's not the theatrical element of a dream that wakes us. It's doubt and fear, and occasionally unwanted knowledge. The animated Folman is on a journey to something he doesn't want to know, nor do we. Therein lies the awful truth of "Waltz With Bashir": animation doesn't make things easier. Quite the contrary. It reduces us to something basic and primal and makes us afraid of the dark. The dark that coils around Sabra and Shatila. And around the hearts of men.

-- John Anderson (Jan. 23, 2009)

Contains disturbing images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity and a scene of graphic sexual content.