The Mournful Bashir

Waltz with Bashir documents the elusive memory of the filmmaker, Ari Folman, along with his fellow soldiers concerning the 1982 Lebanon War, including the massive genocidal massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shattila refugee camps. But this is no ordinary nor traditional documentary. It is correct that there are talking heads viewed throughout the film, but not in the classic sense. Ultimately, the film becomes part documentary, part hallucination, and completely compelling and harrowing. Yet, a devastating meditation on memory is also proffered.
Like Picasso’s groundbreaking masterwork Guernica, Folman deals with the subject at hand, the events and significant emotions imparted on the participants of the Lebanon War through abstraction. In this case, the filmmaker depicts his creatively unique documentary through computer animation, which brings to life the otherworldly hallucinations of the soldiers whether being nurtured in the arms of a beautiful, gigantic though nurturing sea nymph along with the reminisce of an Israeli soldier dancing the waltz as he riddles snipers in the Beirut hotel above with countless bullets.
Ari Folman’s memory of his months in the war came back to him gradually through interviews with the soldiers. His suppression of memory only rears its head as a friend and soldier depicts in haunting detail the nightmare of twenty-six dogs coming after him through the streets of Beirut. This brief meeting spearheads the ensuing meetings that structure the remainder of the film. As soldiers they all share a common goal of getting out alive. But when one solider mentions the atrocity of the massacre to a superior, the commanding officer passes it off with utter indifference, returning to the more pressing matters of the classic German shizer film. The superiors, or soldiers positioned in the upper echelons of the military hierarchy, are no different than commanders in other militaries.
The ensuing years, after 1982, have made the young soldiers older, of course. Yet, they still hold on to painful though fading memories of the yesteryear, which is only brought to the suface through casual conversations between Ari and his fellow soldiers whether discussing over coffee or shared cigarettes and Irish car bombs. That the movie hints at the ultimate massacre at Sabra and Shattila from the start is a given.
Since Folman chose animation as his medium, the film goes to the intense realms of war more powerfully. Visually, the animation is stunning and draws us in quickly with its hard lines and strong definition. This uniqueness adds to the allure of the entire enterprise though thankfully it does not detract from it. The film does not end on an animated note, but rather with actual footage of the aftermath of the massacre. The brief documentary episode shows the dead, bloodied corpses in gruesome detail while the surviving mothers wail in unimaginable horror.


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