Director Ari Folman’s film “Waltz with Bashir” is an animated documentary of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and, specifically, the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The main character is trying to put together the pieces of his shattered memory, attempting to remember his role in the atrocities that occurred in Lebanon. Consulting with friends, he slowly pieces together a story that circles around injustice, death and destruction. The movie tackles some of the psychological consequences of war and forces one to reflect on some of the darker moments in the history of Israel and Lebanon. The most shocking part of the film is perhaps its most obvious trait: it is animated in a mostly monochromatic fashion, mostly bathed in yellow or orange light. Typically animation begets innocence and happiness; it creates a barrier between the story and reality. Folman turns this notion completely around.
Although the film is animated – the movements slow and deliberate with thick lines and intentionally rough transitions – the viewer is so captivated by the story and the pure physical and psychological destructive beauty of the film that the animation slowly retreats into the background. The emotions and terrible reality of war burns through and do not let go. As the film leads up to the massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps – events that were not perpetrated by Israel, but were allowed and indeed aided by the IDF – the viewer cannot lift his eyes from the pure devastation of people’s souls. Folman does well to not label one side as protagonist or antagonist. Every character in the film is culpable and guilty just as everyone in the film is victimized – by unjust murder or by the poisoning guilt deep within their souls. The final gut-wrenching minutes of Bashir show real-life news footages of the aftermath of Sabra and Shatila, brilliantly forcing the viewer to disengage from the animated masterpiece and to view the consequences of war without the deceptive cover of animation.
This is a brilliant movie; it is a film that seems to contain a secret that no one wants to know. The animation serves to protect the viewer (and possibly the creator) from the terrible reality that has been suppressed by the main character. Yet that awful reality penetrates the animation; the beautiful colors and music serve a false friend that one thinks might protect from the darkness of the film that seeps inside, grabs your heart and doesn’t let go.