May 15, 2008

Cannes. Waltz With Bashir.

"Ari Folman's animated documentary could easily turn out to be one of the most powerful statements of this Cannes and will leave its mark forever on the ethics of war films in general," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily.

Waltz With Bashir

"Dealing from a very personal point of view with the Israeli incursion into the Lebanon in 1982 and culminating with the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre, which the Israelis did not perpetrate but surely tolerated, this is not only a tremendously potent anti-war movie but also a formidable moral indictment of Israeli conduct at that time."

"Where Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (to which this film will be inevitably, if somewhat inaccurately, compared) used stark black-and-white animation based on Satrapi's graphic novels to tell the history of one girl growing up during the Iranian revolution, Waltz With Bashir uses vivid, hand-drawn animation to bring to life interviews Folman conducted with friends who were involved in the Lebanese war in the early 1980s to bring to life harrowing memories of death, guilt and regret," writes Cinematical's Kim Voynar, who wouldn't be surprised to see the film make a showing at Telluride - and at the Oscars.

Via Karina Longworth, the trailer.

Updates: Waltz is "something special, strange and peculiarly potent," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "Folman is effectively an onscreen (but animated) narrator and reporter here, whose interviews with other soldiers (voiced by the real people themselves, apart from two individuals) form the film's narrative spine. Each interviewee's story is illustrated, with often startling results."

"It's a strong, strong work - while the reliance on Flash animation gives the visuals an unnecessarily cheap edge, the voice-over work (in most cases by Folman's actual army pals) leads the audience slowly closer to the event until the final, stunning moments almost erupt from the screen," writes Ty Burr. "Waltz with Bashir is an anti-war movie but it's also about what really passes between male friends, and it's about the guilt that can come from abetting an atrocity rather than committing it."

"Animation, of course, solves the problem of recreating with real bodies scenes that should never be recreated (see Gilbert Adair on Schindler's List in his book Flickers)," writes Glenn Kenny. "It also gives Folman imaginative opportunities to ruminate, both sardonically and agonizedly, on a form of Israeli guilt that isn't given much voice anywhere outside of Israel. Its exposure in this festival is almost as groundbreaking as the movie itself."

"Stylistically, the film has the woozy, weightless intensity of Richard Linklater's Waking Life, while it circles its central horror in the same mercurial, questioning manner adopted by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Waltz With Bashir is an extraordinary, harrowing, provocative picture. We staggered out of the screening in a daze."

"If any of us were wondering why an unknown Israeli director's animated quasi-documentary about a largely forgotten war was scheduled so prominently, we're not wondering now," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "At least in part, the subject of Waltz With Bashir - the title refers to Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel, whose assassination inflamed Lebanese Christians to widespread anti-Muslim violence - is the unreliable and fantastic quality of memory itself."

"Though Folman is to be commended for the seriousness and remorselessness of the accretion of detail, his is still very much a view from one side of the fence, however breast-beating," blogs the Guardian's Andrew Pulver. "Can American films ever tell the whole story of the Vietnam war, however lacerating? In the end, Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter are most eloquent on the US soldiers' traumas, not of the Vietnamese locals. Jewish audiences rightly react with suspicion when Germans make films about the second world war death camps. But that is one advantage of Cannes: all the world's media are here, and it may be one of the few opportunities Arab commentators will have to respond to Folman's confession."

"The film feels very personal and almost intimate - the first real winner here, in Cannes," writes Facets' Milos Stehlik.

"Its troops alone bear the scar of war; they carry it home with them - if they come home - and those nightmares may never end," writes Mary Corliss for Time. "Waltz With Bashir is about the cold fingers of memory that clutch the heart. Forman's exemplary film says that only by exposing the wounds can they begin to heal. The message of the futility of war has rarely been painted with such bold strokes."

"The sporadic weakness of the animation is easily overcome by its cinematic adventurousness, with the camera making wild tracking shots and impossible zooms through its sketched-in world," writes Alison Willmore. "More than the monstrous events that are witnessed and that close the film in all-too-real detail, the moments of levity and jolting, out-of-place beauty are spookily resonant of the way things are perma-seared into your recollection, bright and vivid as the passing present. It's a quiveringly good depiction of sense memory, and both a lovely and disquieting film as a whole, one that takes few of the directions you'd expect in that overcrowded field of atrocity docs."

A "major revelation," declares the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu.

Updates, 5/16: "As in Maus, Art Spiegelman's two-volume graphic novel about the Holocaust, the animation in Waltz With Bashir initially works as something of a distancing device, giving you the space — intellectual, emotional — to process the story and its accumulating horrors," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. The "finale, which finds the animation violently giving way to live-action documentary footage, is stunning, at once a furious act of conscience and a lament."

But for Eric Kohn, writing in Stream, that transition "remind[s] us how everything that came before was artifice and giving off the sense that the gimmick eclipses the good intentions."

"Last year's hints of an Israeli cinema renaissance are given further weight by this unsettling examination of the brutally surreal nature of modern combat," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "[T]he film's most damning moment is reserved for the then Israeli Minister of Defence, one Ariel Sharon. An interviewee recalls that when he informed the minister in a late-night phone call that a massacre was suspected, Sharon said 'Thank you for bringing it to my attention' and promptly went back to sleep."

Updates, 5/18: "If the start of the film threatens to appear too episodic and repetitive, the traditionally drawn animation renders a destabilizing and surreally beautiful succession of imagery, particularly the dread, confusion and frightening simulacra of war, which assume a haunting, tragic intensity," writes Patrick Z McGavin for Stop Smiling.

"That Folman chooses to depict his quest in impressionistic, often dream-like animation initially seems like an outrageous poetic liberty - but it makes his film all the more personal and gives it the urgency of a true cri de coeur," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent.

"It's a shattering war film, full of guilt and shock, and finding a new medium for expressing and exploring familiar themes," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Updates, 5/19: Online viewing tip. At Twitch, Ardvark finds trailers at the site.

"Folman has captured a rare thing, and something almost exclusively relegated to fictional cinema: the emotions and personal feeling of memory," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Folman's personal quest to determine his own roll in Beirut - which culminates in the film's most affecting and startling use of mediated remembrance: live action, harsh video footage of the massacre - structures the film, but that story's urgency pales in comparison to the supreme, earnest evocation of the way of remembered events can be colored by psychological and personal reflection and trauma."

Update, 5/21: "The film is little more than a straight-forward condemnation of the horrors of war, made slightly more powerful by the self-critique at the heart of Folman's project," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "But Folman too often resorts to obvious statements of theme, and a late-film shift to live-action footage of the massacres is especially blunt and ill-advised."

Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.

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Posted by dwhudson at May 15, 2008 1:39 AM


I find myself deeply intrigued by the way "Waltz With Bashir" is described. Animated war documentary personal auteur film? Sounds wholly original to me.

The trailer is holding back enough on story, and giving a lot in emotion. Perfect.

Instantly, this film is now way high on my anticipation list in the year to come.

Posted by: Karsten at May 15, 2008 12:18 PM

Absolutely. Mine, too.

Posted by: David Hudson at May 15, 2008 12:24 PM

Same here. Hurry, Toronto!

Posted by: Maya at May 15, 2008 5:04 PM