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World Cinema, Film Reviews: Waltz with Bashir (2008) 16/02/2017


Figure 1: Waltz with Bashir Title

This film review will be focusing on the film 'Waltz with Bashir' (2008), this animation is based on the true story of the director of the film Ari Folman. Serving in the 1982 Lebanon War, Ari Folman has trouble remembering his time on the frontlines. He then embarks on a journey, finding old friends/colleagues who served in the same war in order to find answers. The message of the film depicts trying to recover a memory that he has lost, or is choosing to repress.

This film was made in 2008, was written and directed by Ari Folman, Max Richter did the music. The thing that makes this film stand is for three major reasons, first being is that is an interpretation of an event in history, the second is that the film is Israelian in production and that this was the first animated feature film in Israel in over fifty years.

The films content and message is something that isn't for the faint of heart, very dark topics are spoken about in this film like war, logic of human atrocity and human psychology. The film's message is very powerful once realized and the symbolism in a majority of the films content is something that is quite impressive. This film does show a devastating side of this unfortunate incident, but it does give people a glimpse, into the minds of the troops in this war. "'Waltz with Bashir" is a devastating animated film that tries to reconstruct how and why thousands of innocent civilians were massacred because those with the power to stop them took no action. Why they did not act is hard to say. Did they not see? Not realize? Not draw fateful conclusions? In any event, at the film's end, the animation gives way to newsreel footage of the dead, whose death is inescapable." (R Ebert. 2009)


Figure 2: The Re-Occurring Vision
So to kick things off, what makes this film Israelian? Well for a start the films setting and the general tone is something that doesn't change throughout the entire film. The country itself has had a history of conflict for a very long time, so having the general theme of the film related to an event in the countys culture is no suprise. What is a surpise is the way the story is told, it's almost done in segments, and like in chapters but like you would be reading a comic book, but all the drawing are done by different people. Thats not to say the art style is inconsistent but there are slight differences with the colors used in the shot, most scenes comprise of having either realistic, cartoon shading, whilst other sections are themed around cutout shading.

So something that should be touch upon is the method of story telling, it doesn't really have Freytag's Pyramid but has a very weird Half-Breed. The plot seems to start escalating, stay on a plane, escalates again, goes back onto the plane and then shoots through the roof. There is a slight ease out and a formula can be seen but it's unclear to tell if this was put in for the creative direction or because of the content of the film. Another very key element in the storytelling in this film is the use of real reporter footage.

Now, this part of the film has two sides, but for the sake of explaination here is a quote from the guardfian "Finally, the film puts him right at the scene of the crime, and there is a bold shift from animation to TV news footage. I am not sure quite what to make of this shift, and have an uncomfortable feeling that it is an aesthetic error, and a tacit concession that the animation techniques used until that moment are lacking in seriousness: once the tragedy is directly broached, they must be abandoned. A minor loss of nerve, perhaps." (P Bradshaw. 2008)

This review is not the only to critisize the ending, not its contents but the way its shown. On one hand you do have the issue of breaking immersion in the film, even stated by Bradshaw as an "Aesthetic Error". This can be seen and is an issue, it can be seen what the intention was but for a majority of the final scenes, this method does break the immersion slightly.

On the other hand for people who could spot this, the final scene can send serious chills down your spine, up until now the film has still felt like a film, using a beautiful art style accompanied by beautiful sound makes the film seem like a film, not a documentry, and the final scene it two plot twists at the same time. Now the first and main plot twist is that Ari was present at the massacre of Lebanon, but the other one and much more powerful is the fact that this is not a fictional tale. This was a real event that really happened, but when this all click is the last shot in the film

Now earlier in the film one of the men monologs about a child in the camps who bears a striking resemblance to his daughter and event describes the position and placement of the dead child in detail, and the final shot is of the dead child.

Once that single connection is made the whole instantly turns from Feature film into documentary which at the same time from a narrative standpoint is extremely clever it is also terrible that a such an event had to take place a human lives were taken in what could only be described by the contents of the film as 'A slightly more modern version of Auschwitz'. So whilst this last scene can cause some controversy it is a seriously powerful 4th wall breaker, showing that something that just entertained us with it content was a real event and had real impact on it participators, and speaking of impact there needs to be a little elaboration on the man/character Ari Folman.

The main theme of the film is regaining a memory, now the whole film shows this man trying to regain a memory which he has lost? Or is it a case of his brain repressing the memory in order to protect Ari from the mental traumas of the massacre. At one point in the film the massacre being compared to the Auschwitz incident, there is a very quick and clever comparison to the soldiers partaking in the massacre as Nazi's who don't know they are Nazi's.

If this was the case then no wonder this memory is something that wouldnt want to be found, a humanitarian atrocity buried in memory to protect the victim and villain, being a part of something terrible and having no power to do anything about it.

Figure 3: Tank and Crew
The artistic style in the film is something that seems to be a mixture of the art style seen in most Gorillaz music videos. However, the process of making this wasn't just a case of putting it into either After Effects or Photoshop and turning on a couple effects.

"The animated film, Waltz with Bashir, “uses a unique animation style invented by Yoni Goodman at the Bridgit Folman Film Gang studio in Israel. The technique takes real video, and maps it out so it can be converted into hand drawings and then into traditional animation.
2,300 original illustrations were drawn based on the storyboard, which together formed the actual film scenes using Flash animation, classic animation, and 3D technologies”" (NLB. Singapore 2009).

Every single shot almost seems like something ripped out of a comic, and the way this film was developed it not hard to see why. These almost postcard-like scenes in the film give a sense of remembrance and telling, and the film itself and it clever simplistic art style can make some of the more disturbing shot a lot more powerful.

Things like the drug trip and the reoccurring vision are good examples of taking an art style and giving it depth. Most scenes that either, were stories not relevant to the film's subject, theories in one of the interviewees about what happened or odd trip sequences that depict a larger story, all use the same stylized format, very strong colors with a creative initial message.

The other two version of this art style are the accurate representations of what happened in this time period and the interviews or interactions with other characters not taking place in flashbacks. This emphesizes the human aspects of the story, or the aftermath periods, whilst the flashback period have a real sense of weight to them, in these scenes however there is another catch.

The concept of death it touched upon in the film multiple times, but some of the animation in the film decides to not follow the tradition of the film, things like people getting comedically shot and personal property being damaged are both serious subject but are given the seiousness of a comdey performance. You can see the intention of these scenes is meant to be something lighthearted for such a serious film, like some sort of comedy break to stop the viewer from being so intense throughout the entire film.

The other side of this is the escalation of certain scenes, this is usually seen in the first contact scenes, where everyone is having a good time, enjoying the scenery and then WHAM. The plot immediately chucks you right into the middle of the situation and the animation here conveys it perfectly. The immediate effect of the shot, its consequences and how the crew reacts are shown very well. Even when everyone escapes the tank and make a b-line for the beach it feels like a reverse situation of going over the top of the trenches in WWI, running for cover, terrified and desperately worrying for their wellbeing and their lives.

The art style for the film is something you can see how it has been done but you cannot see the real intention behind it. The designs the people, animals, and environment are both exciting a repulsing, balanced to a degree with is something anyone could appreciate, wether it the story is being looked into deeply or not.

Figure 4: Rain in The City
The final main topic that needs to be touch upon is the sounds and music in the film, which is a real treat. The music in the film is very specific and choices were made obviously to make sure every song fits in it chosen place. certain volumes are chosen depending on the scenario and the tone for the whole animation is set with the music chosen.

The real treat is the sound design in the film, scenes like the storm and the ending have sounds included which make the film really 'Pop'. An example of this is the sounds of the flare in the massacre act, the screen fills with a light in the sky, whilst everywhere else becomes very dark. Accompanied by the visual the sounds of the flare going off are tweaked to a degree so you know its a flare, which traditionaly could be a sign of hope, quickly turns into a sign of fear and dread. The low thumps are the flare are launched gives this single asset depth and contradt in the current situation.

Another use of the sound design is the closing sequence, where low thumps that slightly resemble a heartbeat and a bomb. This gives the scene some real fear and mystery, using the sound of the heartbeat to convey the fear in the scene is very effective.

To finalize, once again, how is the film Israelian. The depth of the film is something to be admired and the complexity of its production is impressive. Ultimately the film as a whole work incredibly well and the cultural influence can be seen as well. Its unclear if the depth of the film is a general trait within these films from this culture, but the bottom line is that the depth in the film is Israelian through and through. A much bigger point needs to be made however, not that film is Israelian but it's a memory from the director.

Ari Folman partook in this event so the accuracy of the film can be sketchy, it being such a traumatic event obviously, some stones would want to remain unturned. The fact that this is a retelling from a perspective and not just a story based on a story is unfortunate, however, this was an event that took place and the horrible reality of it does show in the film, being its best story telling aspect and its worst.  "The Israelis who were witnesses and (mostly inadvertent) accomplices to the killing, and who came home from the war to lives of relative normalcy and tranquillity, have the time and the means to reflect, to explore, to engage in therapy. The victims are beyond any of that, and the blunt literalness of this film’s denouement is a reminder of that unbridgeable gap between the living and the dead. It is also Mr. Folman’s way of acknowledging that imagination has its limits, and that even the most ambitious and serious work of art will come up short against the brutal facts of life." (A O Scott. 2008) 




Bibliography

Bradshaw, P. (2008)
The Guardian
Film Review: Waltz with Bashir’ In:  
[online] At: 
(Accessed on 16 February 2017)

Ebert, R. (2009)
Waltz of Bashir. 
[online] At: 
(Accessed on 16 February 2017)


Scott, A.O. (2008)
Inside a Veteran’s Nightmare.
[online] At:
(Accessed on 16 February 2017)


National Library Board Singapore (2009)
What was the animation style used in waltz with Bashir?
[online] At:

Comments

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