“Memory takes us where we need to go”
Waltz With Bashir is a remarkable form of a documentary. Not only does it dive into a subject matter for which is engrossing in of itself, but it also does so with such a unique presentation that makes this film unmissable. And by this, I’m referring to the choice to use animation which feels so refreshing. The format is fitting for a documentary that explores the commonly examined theme of war but does so with very personal connections and breathtaking visuals.
For the director Ari Forman, to choose to animate his documentary, it represents an unequivocal risk in that it’s a decision that’s rarely been executed in other documentaries. The main attraction is to portray reality but how can you do so when you don’t have the option of filming situations and individuals with cameras in real life. For these reasons, I have to applaud the director for breaking incredible new ground and doing so with such class.
Not only is most of the film entirely animated but it is also done with a unique style that ends up taking four years to make the film. The scenes often used dark hues to contrast the light and grey areas of an image, which felt similar to illustrations produced by comic books. But the way the faces on characters were drawn to the portrayal of objects in the background also oozed a sense of ownership in its style. I found all of this to be great given it felt so refreshing to see the work of an artist who had an original flair for creating animation drawings. So, every credit has to go to not only the director Ali Foreman for finding Yoni Goodman Bridgit Folman Film Gang studio in Israel, who invented that style and was responsible for the brilliant animation.
Yet Waltz With Bashir continues this train of production excellence. The difficulty of animating such a style that requires every drawing to be sliced into hundreds of frames which are then moved in relation with each other to create the movement illusion is a testament of itself. But this was also done from 2,300 original illustrations, which together created the storyboard and formed the frames to animate later on. This is simply stupendous for a film to do let alone a documentary and is almost equivalent (if not the same) to the time put into making a stop-motion claymation film. The only other movie that would beat this feat is Loving Vincent which was animated from 65,000 frames of oil paintings on canvas.
Whilst the story of Loving Vincent wasn’t its greatest strength, Waltz With Bashir thankfully can say it doesn’t suffer that same fate. As the film depicts the journey of the director’s experience with the civil war in Lebanon and is trying to recover gaps in his memories from that time, which leads to him meeting friends and individuals that recount their own stories from the war, which are aimed at triggering the missing gaps to come to light, but also why they were difficult to recount in the first place.
I thought that this was a great way of exploring the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder as it provided for both fascinating anecdotes but also a personal touch. The fact that the director made this film about his journey to find the reasons for his memory loss, makes it incredibly engaging and interesting for me to watch. I was quickly invested in his plight from a human level, as he searches for the answers he can’t figure out yet, but also because it added an element of mystery. With every figure that he interviews, a different and haunting account of the civil war shone a spotlight on life during the war but adding room for the unexpected to occur. I had no clue what gaps of knowledge were possible from the director’s personal memory loss and any recounts from others simply kept opening up the possibilities of what was unimaginable.
This also goes back to the way that in most of these anecdotes, the animation is used to bring to life the other individuals personal recounts of the situation. It’s so much better than having someone simply just tell you their story when you can have animation to actually visualize the images and then have narration on top. It’s very powerful from a visual standpoint of storytelling, as not only is the director relying on aural imagery from the sound recordings but the beautiful animation to compliment the storytelling. Which is why the choice to use such a format is so clever in the first place. Moments from individuals that told of reoccurring and haunting dreams also fitted the dark hue style used. The contrasts of colors in the animation reflect the bleak nature of the dreams and stories of war, which again reaffirm the adept employment of the medium.
I could keep going on with the technical excellence because I haven’t even mentioned the eminent soundtrack and classical songs that play over the top, but I’ll stop short and let you experience that for yourself because Waltz With Bashir is by far one of the best documentaries to have come out of late and needs to be seen.
There are a few films that can compare to it, even if the subject matter is one that has been well documented because Waltz With Bashir is a standout from the rest. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and wouldn’t mind watching it again to hear some of the fantastic insights into the life of war and the stories of people who are still being affected by it. This movie is banned in Lebanon for those reasons but thankfully we can still see it everywhere else and I’m recommending you give this film the attention it needs. See it.