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Israeli Filmmaker Draws on Memory

Waltz With Bashir (2008)

Sony Pictures Classics

In “Waltz With Bashir,” Ari Folman confronts a very specific national crisis, the ramifications of which reverberate today. To his great credit, however, he refuses to turn the film into a diatribe against the politics that permitted the crimes carried out by Christian and Israeli forces at the Sabra and Shantila massacres in Lebanon. “Waltz With Bashir” makes no attempt to connect the incidents to the recent Israeli excursion into Lebanon or, more generally, to the precarious politics of the modern Middle East. Instead, Mr. Folman’s abstractly animated, philosophical motion picture explores one of the great, unspoken casualties of all warfare: its profound lasting psychological toll.

The film begins with a recurring nightmare experienced by the director, a veteran of the Israeli Army: He’s lost all memory of his time in Lebanon, except for one series of images: young men arise naked from the Mediterranean Sea and head towards shore, where a flaming Beirut awaits. Then, streams of terrified, screaming women stream down a city street, as the director looks on in confusion. Using that as his jumping-off point, the filmmaker visits and interviews his former comrades and other figures involved in the conflict to reclaim his memory of it and better understand the ways the experience changed the soldiers involved.

The entire picture operates in the peculiar realm in which memory and reality clash, in which one’s dreaming and conscious states run together. So it’s appropriate that the animation – which mixes hand drawn and computer styles – employs chiaroscuro lighting, careful shading and a heightened color scheme. Mr. Folman means to evoke a very personal, particular state of mind, and the act of animating his interviews lets him effectively evoke the haunted unreality dominating his amnesiac condition.

He wants to reflect on some of the biggest, broadest themes imaginable, certainly ones that have dominated their share of past literature. The original approach lets him powerfully, consistently achieve that goal. “Waltz With Bashir” comes about as close as any movie can to viscerally conveying what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. called the “incommunicable experience of war.”


Opens on Dec. 26 in New York and on Nov. 21 in Britain.

Written and directed by Ari Folman; animation by Bridgit Folman; art director and illustrator, David Polonsky; director of animation, Yoni Goodman; edited by Nili Feller; music by Max Richter; produced by Mr. Folman, Yael Nahlieli, Ms. Folman, Serge Lalou, Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States) and Artificial Eye (Britain). In Hebrew, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 18 by B.B.F.C.


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