Saturday, January 31, 2009

Waltz With Bashir (2008) - REVIEW

Sometimes it's hard to think of documentaries as "movies"; they're (hopefully) based entirely on fact, and as such, aren't so much escapes from reality as they are claws to drag us back into reality. This is why "Waltz With Bashir", writer/director Ari Folman's look at the effects that the Christian/Muslim conflicts in Lebanon have on the soldiers succeeds so well. First off, it's not just a documentary, but an animated one, so from the very beginning we're being presented with something fresh. It opens with a nightmare; 26 crazed hounds dart through the streets before stopping at the base of an apartment buiding. A man looks from his 3rd story window and stares down at their freakish yellow eyes, before we cut to "reality". This is where the animation is most successful. Though the talking head segments are just like those in any other documentary, the flashbacks, hallucinations, and even dreams all benefit from being animated. Having to stage recreations with real people (especially dreams) could have been irritating and too obviously fake, but the animation makes everything flow, and even makes the talking head sections more interesting. In his quest to find out what happened at a small, Palestinian-dominated village, Folman seeks out other Lebanese soldiers who fought with him, to see if they hold the key to not only what happened, but Folman's particular involvement. This premise as a whole would have, most likely, felt dry and dull if left to live action and potentially cheesy staged flashbacks, and the animation saves it. Even the quieter sections (a young boy running through the snow) are vibrant, and when the film reaches its best moments, the animation is truly what makes it soar. One particular hallucination/dream is a standout; Folman and two unidentified soldiers rise up from the water as falling signal flares light the way, and they slowly march towards land and dress for battle. It's a mysterious and stirring sequence that is only one of many stunningly composed images that help the film's loose narrative stick. Max Richter's moody score works beautifully, especially in the dream scenes, and the animation provides many moments that outshine some of last year's best cinematography. However, if you're still puzzled as to why anyone would combine animation with documentary, then you have an even bigger incentive to see it on the big screen. Once the film's final reels unfold, you'll realize why animation was the only way to tell a story so somber...

Grade: A-

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 57

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