Sony // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 6th, 2009
"Memory takes us where we need to go."
Cinema has always seemed to be wrapped up in notions of what is and isn't real, much like memory. As anyone who studied the Zapruder film knows, just because something is capture at twenty-four frames a second doesn't mean we know the truth. Well, Ari Folman decided to take that idea to a logical extreme, mixing the "truth" of his documentary search into the Israeli invasion of Lebanon with the cinematic tools of animation and recreation. The mixture of surreal fantasy animation with the hard-hitting facts of war makes for a compelling look at the aftermath of Israel's military conflict. Waltz With Bashir was critically acclaimed upon its theatrical release, and now comes to Blu-ray in a solid package.
Ari Folman (writer/director/subject) was a solider during the 1982 Lebanon War, where he witnessed numerous disturbing events. However, he seems to have forgotten most of them until he is reminded by a friend, who tells him of a dream involving all the dogs he shot while a soldier. The dream reminds Ari of a vision he has of himself and several other soldiers walking out of the water naked. This memory/vision prompts Ari to explore his own involvement in the war as well as his presence during the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. He begins to excavate his memory by talking to a psychologist, as well as some of his friends in the service. Slowly he pieces together the events of the war and its effect on the soldiers who fought in it.
Once Ari has his memory reawakened, the film follows a basic formula of
interviews followed by reenactments of what the interview subject has described.
The interviews look like standard talking head shots, but with colors rotoscoped
over them (although rotoscoping wasn't the technology used). The reenacted
scenes are done in cutout animation style, which gives them a very fluid, almost
surreal feel to them. Many documentaries use reenactments to reiterate what
their subjects are saying, but usually it's to either to show the audience what
happened, thus supporting the subject, or less frequently to contradict the
subject (like The Thin Blue Line's shifting reenactments). In Waltz
With Bashir, they're more like actual memories, with distortions, deletions,
the occasional addition as new information is received. This tension between the dream-state of the war scenes and the often clinical details in the interviews is at the heart of the film.
The technique also allows for a critical amount of distance between the viewer and the subject. Most of us know by now that war is hell, so films have had to get increasingly close to the action to shock viewers into realizing just how bad it is. Waltz With Bashir takes the opposite route, separating the viewer from the carnage via cartoon. It's not that the film avoids violence, but seeing a head blown off with animated chunks just isn't as immediately affecting as the more realistic violence of war movies like Saving Private Ryan. The upshot of this technique is that because it takes longer to register, the violence is actually more affecting than it would be if it was "realistically" done. While blood and guts might get a bigger reaction, it's also more shallow. In contrast, Waltz With Bashir is affecting precisely because it's animated, and therefore distancing.
Waltz With Bashir's animation gets the deluxe treatment on this Blu-ray disc. Although the film was created digitally, it doesn't appear to have been directly ported to this disc. Instead, it looks like a 35mm print was scanned to produce this transfer. This gives the animation a slight amount of grit and some grain, which actually helps the film more than a pristine transfer would. Both the Hebrew and English audio tracks are crystal clear, although I prefer the original Hebrew track. There are both traditional and SDH English subtitles.
Ari Folman is the man behind Waltzing with Bashir, so it's no surprise that he's all over the extras for this release. His commentary is intelligent and engaging as he discusses both the story and the production, although he gets a little quiet towards the end. He's also the center of a Q&A session where more information about the film is revealed. There's also a standard making-of that includes insights from others involved in the production, and for those desiring a larger peek behind the scenes, several animatics are included as well.
Although I love the effect of combining documentary and animation, it can be a bit too alienating at some points. About 20 minutes from the end my interest started to flag because it was getting harder to follow who was being interviewed and what their relationship to the previous subject was. Although my attention flagged, the last 10 minutes brought it all back together and tied it up nicely. I think that Waltz With Bashir will reward multiple viewings, even if the first is a little difficult.
Animated, in the case of Waltz With Bashir, does not mean kid-friendly. The film earns its R rating with graphic violence, nudity, and what we might call disturbing situations. Those expecting light animated fare like Pixar's will be very, very disappointed.
By no means is Waltzing With Bashir a candy-colored drama. It's a hard-hitting, difficult piece of cinema that attempts to give a glimpse into the horrors of war. Those adventurous enough to engage with its novel merger of animation and documentary will be rewarded with an enlightening look at war and memory. With a solid Blu-ray presentation, this release is easy to recommend to film fans.
Waltz With Bashir is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Hebrew)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R