February 11, 2009
In reviewing the underrated Stop-Loss just about a year ago, I asked the question,”… are we going to be ready when the real effects of the war start here? When hundreds of thousands of veterans are going through the same unexaggerated struggles as these characters?” The answer, I still believe, is no.
But what I failed to consider until I saw Waltz with Bashir is that a number of these veterans may not even remember their experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other undisclosed places. No harm, no foul? Not quite, but an interesting phenomenon to consider. With Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman has turned the stereotype of the war-traumatized soldier on its head, introducing us to himself in one of the most personal films of the year (alongside another powerful documentary, Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father).
Having passively observed as a 19 year-old Israeli soldier the brutal massacre of two refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, Folman found himself simply unable to remember the incident when another veteran described a recurring nightmare to him one night at a bar. Upset and eventually unsettled by his own foggy visions of the past, Folman set out to find those who fought by his side with hope that they would shed light on what really happened.
Animated but not rotoscoped, the result is an often hypnotizing blend of interviews and reenactments that illustrates a troubling history not only in Beirut, but also in the minds of so many Israeli soldiers. What must it be like to realize you've been a part of something so reprehensible? Though I'm sure Israeli war veterans don't comprise much of the Academy, it struck a nerve with enough voters to earn a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, even if it was overlooked for Best Animated Film (dogs and robots and pandas go down a little easier for the kids, you know) and Best Documentary Feature (the animation likely distracted from the reality for many voters).
If it isn't obvious enough, Folman readily admits Waltz with Bashir is "a very anti-war statement. I was trying to say that wars are really useless and a waste of life for so many people for the sake of nothing." That much is clear - what's not is just how many American soldiers will be making the same film in 30 years.