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The Things They Animated

A mixture of documentary and narrative filmmaking revisits a forgotten mystery.

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Though the Oscar-nominated “Waltz with Bashir” has the look of extremely clever budget filmmaking, it's on the vanguard of films pushing the limits and meaning of the documentary.


Bearing more similarities to such films as “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and Bill Maher's recent “Religulous” than is apparent at first glance, the movie is constructed in a way that makes it difficult to pin down in one genre. Though technically a documentary, it could just as easily be taken for a fictional film, with an animated reconstruction of events that's both a subtle and explicit investigation of truth and memory.


Written and directed by former Israeli soldier Ari Folman, the film is a reconstruction of Folman's attempt to remember the 1982 Lebanon War through interviews with former friends and fellow soldiers who fought alongside him. The nagging memory at the center of it all is the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which Lebanese Phalangist militiamen under the watch of Israeli forces massacred Palestinian civilians in a refugee camp. Folman, finding he cannot remember anything about the experience except a vision of the sea and the lights from flares in the night sky, visits various friends and journalists hoping their interviews will help.


The result is an unusual combination of traditional documentary interview and animation, which bears stylistic similarities to tabloid television journalism in which the voice of an interviewee or reporter provides narration to a re-creation of the events. The difference here is that the finished construction is more like a fluid, narrative story, with the further complication of mixing interview participants. Some are the real historical figures. Others are actors portraying them.


Given its achievement as a blend of fiction and documentary, “Waltz with Bashir” deserves its nomination as best foreign language film in this year's Academy Awards. Punctuated by an abrupt break into traditional documentary footage at the end, shocking scenes that both justify the artful experimentation that preceded and provide its heartbreaking coda, it's one of the few nominees deserving the recognition. (R) 87 min. HHHHI S

Editor's Note: The Richmond opening of this film has been pushed back to Feb. 27.

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