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Waltz With Bashir 

Drawn from Memory: The horrors of war become an animated soldier’s story in Waltz With Bashir.

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Animation! Its not just for kiddie movies anymore.

Actually, thats been true at least since Ralph Bakshis 1972 X-rated Fritz the Cat, if not the intricately smart Looney Tunes shorts of the 1940s. But the financial success of the Disney juggernautfollowed by the Mouses inevitable imitatorshas cemented the idea that if its a cartoon, it must be for the kids. Maybe that notion will finally be put aside after Waltz With Bashir, the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar in the foreign-language category.

Not only is it most definitely not for the younguns, it also takes animation into the realm of cinematic art in a way that even the most ardent detractor of singing princesses surely must acknowledge.

More illustrated than animated, more Maus than Mouse, Bashir uses a flat palette of shadows and sickly colors to tell an impressionistic, surreal, often hallucinatory tale of one mans attempt to recapture memories that hes suppressedmemories he may be better off not remembering. Ari Folman is an Israeli filmmaker who hears the story, from an old friend, of how his subconscious keeps coughing up the same horrific dream, night after night, of the friend being chased through the streets by a pack of vicious dogs. Its this startling sequence that opens the film: Demon hounds crashing through cafes with the brutal starkness of a graphic novel come to life, and none of the fluid prettyness of a Disney toon, setting the tone of whats to come.

For Folman discovers that although he agrees with his friend that this recurring nightmare is likely the spawn of their joint time together in the Israeli army during the first war with Lebanon in the early 1980s, Folman himself can remember nothing of his army service. Its a complete blank. But he doesnt panic; he decides to investigate, to talk to other friends and acquaintances from that time in order to unravel what he can about his experience during the war.

As he does so, memories begin to resurface, which we experience as harsh animated phantasms. The roiling, conflicting emotions of the young Folmanand his fellow soldiersduring the war manifest themselves as brash images of aggressive masculinity that turn soft and pining, as in one astonishing moment that is all longing for the comfort of women. Of a lover? A mother? Both, and neither, perhapsits more inchoate yearning than articulated desire.

Bashir is Folmans true story of his search for his lost past. As an animated documentary2007s Persepolis was based on fact, too, but was more autobiography than documentarythe film breaks new ground. It creates a sensory experience of something many of us will never undergo firsthandbattlefield terror, the panic of being under fire, the disconnect soldiers use to separate war from not-war and spare their sanityin a way that no live-action re-creation could achieve.

Its hard to pick which sequence is most staggering, or most shocking, or most disquieting. Is it the psychologically numbed soldiers emerging from the sea as if out of a womb of protection and into danger? Is it Folmans initial impressions of the Beirut airport when his battalion arrives there, hazed over with the pleasant implications of tourism and travel airports usually come withand then the contrast with how things really stand? Is it the moment when we discover what the title of the film means, which becomes something like a classical ballet performed with RPGs?

As Folman talks with his old friends most supply their own voices; a few who wished to remain anonymous are performed by actors based on Folmans actual interviews with themthe cumulative effect of the bleak imagery of memories and Folmans calm but alarmed befuddlement with his predicament is unsettling.

Waltz With Bashir becomes a profoundly anti-war statement not just for the horrors of the actual battlefieldand as Folmans memories return, we see exactly how awful those horrors can bebut also for the longterm impact on the men who fight. Rarely has the hollow that war leaves in those who carry it out been so vividly portrayed.

WALTZ WITH BASHIR

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Documentary
Directed by Ari Folman
Rated R

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The Bands Visit (2007) Ronit Elkabetz Sasson
Gabai Rated
PG-13
Beaufort (2007)
Oshri Cohen
Ohad Knoller
Not rated
Persepolis (2007)
Chiara Mastroianni Catherine Deneuve
Rated PG-13
Chicago 10 (2008)
Hank Azaria
Mark Ruffalo
Rated R
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