When trying to find someone to go to Waltz with Bashir with, I described it as it is, an animated Israeli documentary about soldiers’ recollections of the first Lebanon war of the early Eighties. Perhaps not surprisingly, I went to the cinema alone. This is a shame, since Waltz with Bashir is so much more than a sum of its parts, and a truly exceptional piece of filmmaking.
The use of animation serves to distance the viewer from the horror of what they are viewing, while at the same time highlighting the absurd futility of war.
The story consists of the filmmaker, Ari Folman, trying to unearth his long repressed memories of his time in the Israeli army at the age of 19. The film is made from the point of view of Ari Folman as a man, looking back at his adolescence as a common soldier. He is no hero, no great warrior, simply a man little past boyhood, thrust into a situation which he does not fully understand, and from which he may not emerge alive. Some people I have spoken to have expressed the opinion that the film is Israeli propaganda, designed to demonise the Christian Phalangist militiamen, and certainly it can be viewed in that way; there are several references to concentration camps and links drawn between the Christians and the Nazis, but I think that in reading the film that way you miss the essential point.
This is a film that removes any glamour or glory from war, presenting it in it’s starkest form, that of young men shooting young men without really knowing why, and then going home to try and forget the horrors they have experienced. Rather than being a Michael Moore-ish didactic, one-sided documentary, intent on beating you over the head with his argument, here you are presented with images and (up to a point) left to decide for yourself. Using powerful interview and real testimonies to illustrate his own growing recollection of events, Folman presents us with a film as powerful as it is beautiful, as touching as it is terrible, and one that I would recommend everyone to watch. Not always enjoyable viewing, but essential none the less.