Director Ari Folman’s friend Boaz is having a recurring nightmare.
He’s being hunted by exactly 26 dogs. When they find where he works, they tell his boss to put him out on the street, or they will kill all the customers. Boaz knows if he leaves the building he will be the one torn to bits.
That’s when he realizes where the nightmare came from. Two decades previously he and Ari were part of Israel’s war on Lebanon. As Boaz refused to kill people, he was assigned a sniper’s position. Being the most effective alarm system most Lebanese villages utilized were their dogs, his job was to silently kill them before they warned the population. It turns out he killed 26 canines when he was on duty.
The kicker? After the conversation Ari starts having his own recurring nightmare. Although completely different from Boaz’s, they do share one thread in common. Both nightmares are connected to something they did in Lebanon. Something horrible. Something they and two other friends have done their best to completely forget.
Every year, one animated film comes that’s a shock to the system.
Last year it was Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. This year it’s Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir.Yes, both films share common ground in that they mainly take place in the Middle East. Yes, they both center on the toll war takes, not only on the dead, but the living.
But where Persepolis is by and large the memories of exile, Bashir is a surrealistic tour-de-force of animation and history, mixed in with haunting personal memories. .
A documentarian, Folman has been experimenting with animation for a short while. His last project, a documentary TV series, contained a three-minute animated clips used to move from one episode to the next. This time Folman has gone full-bore animation, ending up with a film that closely resembles Mamoru Oshii’s Jin-Roh and Rich Linklater’s A Waking Dream and A Scanner Darkly. In other words, he filmed real friends about their mutual experience in Lebanon, and then had a team of animators take over. The key difference though is Folman insists there was no rotoscoping involved. His animators did original sketches based on the film and then applied a number of different techniques—from trad, to Flash and even CGI—depending on the point being made.
“The story is my very personal experience,” Folman said in a press release. “It follows what I went through from the moment I realized that there were some major parts in my life completely missing from my memory. I went through a major psychologic(al) upheaval during the four years I worked on Waltz With Bashir. I discovered a lot of heavy stuff regarding my past and meanwhile, during those years, my wife and I brought three kids into this world. This makes you wonder, maybe I am doing all this for my sons. When they grow up and watch the film, it might help them make the right decisions, meaning not to take part in any war, whatsoever.
“A journey trying to figure out a traumatic memory from the past is a commitment to long term therapy. My therapy lasted as long as the production of Waltz With Bashir for years. There was a shift from dark depression as a result of things discovered to being in euphoria over the film finally being in production with complicated animation being done by the team at a pace better than expected. If I was the type of guy who believes in the cult of psychotherapy, I ’d swear the film had done miracles to my personality. But due to previous experience, I ’d say the filmmaking part was good, but the therapy aspect sucked.”
As one can expect, the film is already picking up its share of international awards, including a Cannes nomination. Domestically, it’s already up for the Annie for Best Director and Best Film and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. There’s already talk about it being up for an Oscar, for both Animation and Foreign Film.
No matter what, this is a must see film, particularly as it tells volumes about a pair of incidents both the U.S. and Israel would rather be forgotten. As intimated at the beginning of the movie, suppressing such memories demand a particularly heavy price. Let’s hope enough see it before there’s a similarly tragic film made about the U.S.