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Waltz With Bashir

Written & Directed by Ari Folman

Rated R

Now Playing

(Scheduled for LSC on May 9, 10)

I made a mad dash to the Kendall Square Cinema one cold day during IAP to see the Academy Award-nominated film by Israeli director Ari Folman, hoping to witness cinematic art and escape my obligations for the day.

Waltz With Bashir chronicles a veteran’s devastating journey through his memory in order to unearth his forgotten role in the Lebanon War of 1982. Through interviews with friends and peers who served with him, Folman, who also serves as the protagonist, recalls a collection of narrative accounts, telling his story and his comrades’ stories through the unique use of animation, freeing him from the conventional constraints of physics and reality. Folman takes advantage of this liberty, creating dream-like sequences, both riveting and horrific, with one of particular significance stuck in his mind. What he discovers about this image and himself reveals the tragedy, vulnerability, and brutality of human nature.

Folman’s particular dream occurs after he meets with a friend who has been plagued by the same nightmare for the past 20 years and asks him about the therapeutic nature of film. This encounter causes Folman to reflect on his own role in the war.

The dream involves him and his peers bathing in an ocean flanked by tall buildings. As he gazes at the sky, he sees bright flares travel in a parabolic trajectory across the skyline of Beirut. The film displays this image three times, with more added to it each subsequent time.

Folman cannot pinpoint this occurrence in his memory, so he sets off to investigate the source of his bizarre dream. He speaks with now well-adjusted, middle-aged men, some entrepreneurs, some family men, and one a well-known journalist. His contacts demonstrate an array of human emotion, from false bravado to overwhelming guilt. One joins the army to demonstrate his manhood but ends up vomiting all night on his first dispatch. Another runs away from his doomed battalion when they engage enemy fire. These depictions of young soldiers contrast the sense of gung-ho militarism and overtures of brute force associated with the army. This contradiction demonstrates the imperfect nature of humans, an element Folman thoroughly approaches in Waltz.

Out of all of the scenes in the film, two scenes struck me as especially poignant. One of Folman’s comrades commandeers a larger gun from his peer, insisting that he can take control of a highway pass defended by opposing snipers. As he dashes away from cover, the notes of a frantic Chopin waltz play in the background, creating an odd tension between musical energy and visual dizziness. In this chaos, the soldier remains unscathed amid a background of broken buildings, ammunition shells, and posters of Bashir Gemayel, who is depicted as the dashing and brave future leader of Lebanon.

This tumultuous scene serves as the motivation for the title — Gemayel’s assassination prompts the Israeli army to enter Beirut, creating the backdrop for Folman’s odd, reoccurring image of flares amid skyscrapers.

The second scene that moved me reflects the psychological analysis of a specialist Folman visits to explain the phenomenon of his memory loss. She tells Folman of a photographer who coped with the horror of war by removing himself from the scene, reasoning that he was merely viewing the carnage on the other side of the lens, removed from the destruction. One day his camera broke, resulting in a great degree of trauma for the individual as the images he formerly rationalized as distant instead became devastatingly imminent.

In the same way, the animation style creates a sense of removal from the brutality of human nature. The film, up until this point, is a mosaic of vivid and moving pictures, but it still seems removed from reality. In the final scene, however, the director uses authentic video footage from the massacre, the very one he helped perpetrate by launching flares to light the way for the allied Lebanese Phalangists to enact the bloodshed. Without the lens of animation creating a separation, a nauseating wave of disbelief and horror overwhelms Folman as well as the viewer.

Waltz with Bashir not only serves as a soldier’s realization of the conflicts involving human nature, but also a depiction of a historical account that has current implications in today’s turbulent world.