Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Dror Harazi, Yehezkel Lazarov, Mickey Leon, Ori Sivan, Zahava Solomon
Written by: Ari Folman
Directed by: Ari Folman
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity and a scene of graphic sexual content
Language: Hebrew, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 05/15/2008

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

War Toons

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ari Folman's astonishing new animated documentary uses tactics similar to Brett Morgen's Chicago 10, but has totally eclipsed it in terms of acclaim. Certainly Folman's film is more ambitious and takes on a more sober topic, but I like them both about the same. Waltz with Bashir centers around a film director who meets an old friend in a bar. The friend has had a disturbing dream, whose images originate in the Lebanon War of the early 1980s. Ari realizes that he can't remember anything from his own war experiences, except for a vision of himself and two colleagues rising naked out of the water and walking toward a shelled, empty beach hotel. Like a reporter investigating Charles Foster Kane's "Rosebud," he sets about interviewing everyone who was there, piecing together the clues, and trying to find the meaning behind his vision. At first Folman uses striking, fluid, tactile imagery to illustrate the elastic nature of memory, ranging from snow and water to the feel of a tank navigating a city's narrow streets to more surreal, dreamlike images (like a giant, swimming, naked woman). As the film goes on, however, he lapses into mere sit-down, talking head interviews, and by the film's end, he reverts to real-life footage. We can only speculate that Folman eventually lost interest in the idea of memory, which justifies the film's gorgeous, powerful presentation, and decided to focus instead on a "horrors of war" theme, which -- let's face it -- has been done at least 40 other times this year alone. But up to that point, which, to be fair, is very late in the game, Waltz with Bashir is an extraordinary work. The title refers to Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel, assassinated in 1982, but as for the "waltz" part, I'll let you discover that for yourself.

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