Waltz With Bashir is a strange and wonderful hybrid.
The anti-war film is both an animated movie and a documentary, mixing fact and fantasy one minute, and real war events and dream sequences the next. But it's not a pretty picture. Waltz With Bashir is a disturbing look at atrocities committed in the early 1980s at Palestinian refugee camps during the war in Lebanon.
Waltz With Bashir begins with images of a pack of wild dogs running wild. The frightening animals are part of a recurring dream told to filmmaker Ari Folman by a friend he sits with in a bar. The dream, says the friend, is related to what he did during the war in Lebanon, when he and Folman were just kids of 18 or 19.
Folman says he never thinks about those days of more than 20 years ago. He's surprised to realize he actually remembers almost nothing of that military service.
And so he sets out to visit old friends and ask them and other people what they remember of that period in their lives. So begins a strange, dream-filled journey of trying to fill in the blanks of memory and time.
At first, the war is something far away, just a collection of events in the past that somehow changed the future. Here is Folman's friend Carmi, for example, a man everyone had predicted would one day win a Nobel Prize for nuclear physics. But, "By the time I was 20, that future was over," says Carmi. And then the story gets more specific.
Slowly but surely, Waltz With Bashir moves toward the detailed recall of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. Folman and his colleagues remember exploding tanks and sniper fire, car bombs, dumping the bodies of the dead, the trashed airport at Beirut, children with weapons, dead animals at the Hippodrome. (The title is taken from a scene in which people watch as one man shoots wildly and dodges sniper fire, as if dancing, in a spot where posters of Bashir Gemayel hang over the streets.)
The weird thing about Waltz With Bashir is that the use of animation intensifies the events, when you might assume it would do the opposite. The storytelling is superb, layering detail upon detail of visuals and events; it is a mesmerizing (and vaguely hallucinogenic) picture to look at. Waltz With Bashir, which has English subtitles, won best film and five other awards of the Israeli Film Academy. It is Israel's submission for best foreign language film at this year's Academy Awards.
(This film is rated 18-A)