The Israeli animated movie Waltz with Bashir aka Vals Im Bashir is this rare thing – a really surprising movie. On top of that it’s well done, original, interesting and has a great score by Max Richter (Shutter Island).
In Waltz with Bashir Ari Folman tells his own story. He was in Lebanon in 1982, fighting with the Israeli army. At the beginning of the movie we see a pack of dogs, running in the night. It’s a very haunting, eerie image and we learn soon that it’s from a nightmare form one of Ari’s friends who was fighting in Lebanon at the same time. Although not capable of shooting people, he had to shoot the dogs who guarded the villages at night. Those dogs have come back, after far more than 20 years and haunt him in his dreams. One evening in a bar he tells Ari about it. They had never spoken about the war before and Ari had never thought of it much. To his great dismay he realizes that he doesn’t even remember anything. It’s as if it had never taken place.
After this conversation with his friend, he dreams of the war for the first time. The pictures seem to be part of a memory that he cannot really place. It looks like he is remembering a massacre in a refugee camp.
The conversation and the subsequent dream are the reason why Ari thinks, he needs to recover his memory, needs to talk to old friends, to comrades and officers. He travels to Holland and many other places, looking for people who were in Lebanon with him. He speaks to psychologists and learns a lot about the way how memory works, about dissociation and how traumatic experiences are suppressed.
It is highly fascinating to watch how he recovers his memory. Fascinating and sad as he finds out so many horrible things. It’s interesting that more than one person recovers their memory or snaps out of a state of dissociation when thinking of dying and killed animals.
What adds further complexity to the story is the fact that Ari Folman’s father was in Auschwitz. It becomes apparent after a while that the horrors his father has described to him are somehow linked to his suppressed meories and once he recovers the memory of the war he has been in, he remembers everything else as well.
During the last five minutes the movie suddenly turns into a documentary. It is no longer an animated picture but we see original footage of the war in Lebanon.
This is the second animated war movie I have seen (the other one was Grave of the Fireflies) and both were excellent. It’s a medium that works extremely well for this topic.
Waltz with Bashir is highly recommendable. It contains a moving and profound anti-war statement and a very interesting exploration of memory.