Saturday, March 7, 2009

Waltz With Bashir - 2 1/2 stars

This is a movie about Ari Folman, an Israeli writer / director, interviewing fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He can't remember much of what happened, so he talks to them about their experiences, asking questions like "was I there?" As the movie progresses, he remembers more of the invasion, culminating with the massacre of a Lebanese refugee camp where men, women and children were killed.

What makes this movie interesting is that instead of watching Folman and the veterans talk, the movie is animated. Not only are the conversations animated, the events that they talk about are depicted. We see everything the men talk about, including the dreams that they describe. According to, most of the men portray themselves (there are a couple of voice actors credited). I don't know if he recorded the interviews and that is the audio we hear in the movie, or if the men came in to a studio to recreate the interviews, possibly reading from a script. I'm thinking the former. If this were a more traditional documentary, we would see Folman visiting another former soldier at his home and sitting around talking. Instead, we hear the conversation and see the animation. It makes me wonder how much of the animation is accurate - did the room really look like that? How much artistic license did he take in the animation.

The animation does look incredible. Unfortunately the movie as a whole did not do much for me. I think my biggest problem was that I couldn't connect with the characters. I didn't feel emotionally invested in them, so by the end I really didn't care about them. I didn't care whether Folman remembered all the details of the war or not. Maybe it felt too much like a regular narrative film to me, and if this were a live-action movie, I would be expecting more resolution. Maybe a scene at the end where he remembers the massacre and breaks down with remorse about not being able to prevent it. Something like that.

If the movie doesn't work as a narrative story, it also doesn't work for me as a documentary. I'm ok with documentaries taking different forms (I don't need a bunch of talking heads giving me statistics), but I didn't feel like I learned anything from this movie. There are so many questions I now have about the conflict, and especially the massacre, and the movie raised so many more questions than it answered. I guess that in itself is also not a bad thing - if a movie makes you want to know more about a subject, that is good. But I expect a documentary to teach me a few things, and as a documentary, I really felt let down.

I know I am in the minority on this movie. Currently it sits at 96% fresh on But I didn't enjoy it that much. Its now been a few hours since I've seen it, and except for a few good sequences, nothing is really sticking with me.

No comments: