Monday, 12 March 2012

Ari Folman's 'Waltz with Bashir', (2008)...

Fig. 1 Waltz with Bashir poster.

Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir is a fantastic and innovative way to portray a documentary film. From start to finish it grabs the audience by the throat and pulls them into a film covering some serious subject matter. The narrative that runs through this documentary is the need for the lead character, Ari Folman; who is also the writer and director of the film, to discover his past.

Before talking about the stunning art style and the innovative portrayal of a documentary, it is important to understand the context of this particular documentary. This film reveals a part of Israel's history that the country itself has struggled with. Waltz with Bashir is the first film to emerge from the country since the 60's and why they allowed it to be an animation is very intriguing, Perhaps due to the idea that animation is not taken as seriously as a traditional live action film is. It is only a cartoon so it can not be portraying real and serious issues. No matter what the reasoning, it allowed Folman to touch on some particularly important and shocking events in his and his fellow country men's lives. All of it stems from when Israeli military invaded Lebanon in 1982. The country was suffering from violent civil unrest and the current president "Bachir Gemayel” was believed to have been assassinated by Palestinian militants. This lead to a series of horrific murders by the "Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia, in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon”. Ari Folman was part of the armed forces that were involved in   

Fig. 2 Soldiers firing flares.
Though the massacres are horrific, and something that could easily be represented with damning violence in a film, Waltz with Bashir instead focuses on a much more personal expression of the events. As writer, Alice Rothchild, expressed, that "Waltz with Bashir, by Ari Folman, explored an Israeli soldier’s search for his lost memories regarding his participation in the brutal massacres in Sabra and Shatilla, both damning the IDF and exposing us to the trauma that young soldiers experience fighting Israel’s wars." (Rothchild, 2010:261) Though the events displayed in the film are clearly distressing and horrendous acts of violence by a dominant and aggressive outside force, the audience is not being lead to only experience how awful the perpetrators are but how these actions effect those involved. For example, the audience follows around Ari Folman as a young soldier. As a matured man, he recollects his actions gradually as he discovers new memories. As film reviewer, Dan Jolin explains, "Here we see warfare not just on the sensory level but also on the subconscious: recollection, fever-dream and immediate experience all at once" (Jolin, 2008) The audience is welcomed into Folman's new world of memories first through a lucid vision that seems more like a dream than something that could have actually occurred. His body has prevented him from fully remembering his involvement in the massacre for over 20 years, now, as he pushes towards away at it, cracks start to appear, revealing memories he never knew he had. These memories are gradually more realistically portrayed as the film goes on, representing the writer's clarity of mind as he interviews more and more people involved in Beirut that day.

Fig. 3 Graphic novel style.
Ari Folman was discovering a huge and possibly devastating part of his and his country's past. To successfully represent this visuals is extremely important. As writer, Bill Nichols, believes: “The event haunts him for years afterwards and the animated images give graphic representation to the agony, isolation, and despair that he, and others, subsequently felt."(Nichols, 2010:111) This can be seen as showing Folman's complete success in getting across the documentary's tone and atmosphere to match the content. To represent these events in an animated style is very difficult as it would need to be as bold and powerful as the subject it is showing. Waltz with Bashir is a prime example of when style succeeds to match the heavy message it is trying to portray. Visually, its heavily inked graphic novel style makes it an incredibly modern take on the very typical documentary genre. Nichols went on to EXPLAIN that the animation style "clearly possess[es] a strongly subjective, even expressionistic, quality. They attempt to see war as the disoriented, confused Israeli soldiers, including the filmmaker, saw it...As a representation of subjective states of mind, the film achieves a high degree of plausibility even as it departs from any standard sense of documentary realism." (Nichols, 2010:13-4) Despite the film's use of a sometimes expressionistic quality as it tries to visually recreate the soldiers' state of mind, it still manages to retain the plausibility and power that the realism found in a traditional documentary would have.

The film is a brave look into the world of a soldier during that horrible time in Lebanon. It manages to portray the horror that every day warfare would bring, while accompanied by the blackest humour the soldiers would have to keep their spirits up. The final sequence is possibly one of the most powerful ways the film could have ended and because of that, on top of the stunning quality of visuals and writing, it deserves every reward it received.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Waltz with Bashir (2008) Waltz with Bashir poster. At: (Accessed on: 12.03.12)

Figure 2. Waltz with Bashir (2008) Soldiers firing flares. At: (Accessed on: 12.03.12)

Figure 3. Waltz with Bashir (2008) Graphic novel style. At: (Accessed on: 12.03.12)


Jolin, Dan (2008) Waltz with Bashir. In: Empire 17.11.2008 [online] At: (Accessed on: 12.03.12)

Nichols, Bill (2010) Introduction to Documentary. USA: Indiana University Press.

Rothchild, Alice (2010) Broken Promises, Broken Dreams : Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience. GBR: Pluto Press

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