Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary, a potent exploration of director Ari Folman's own experience of war. It's told as he tries to piece together his fractured memories of the major Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 1982. Waltz with Bashir is a powerful piece of cinema that bravely confronts a disturbing and brutal period in the Middle–East's history.
One might think that an animated picture would distance the audience from the harrowing images of war but if anything they are made more potent. The visual aesthetic produced through animation - the wash of yellow and grey and the stylized quality of the images – somehow heightens the film’s surreal feeling and intensifies the viewer’s visual experience. We are bombarded with images of pure violence and human pain that feels all too real.
The incongruity of the sporadic cheerful songs about going to war along with animated documentation portrays the blithe easiness with which these soldiers went to fight. No man really knew the reason behind his involvement and all blindly fired at anything and everything out of sheer terror. Real events merge with dreams and imaginings as Ari meets with old comrades to try and piece together his broken memory. Indeed, this film, as much as it is about war, is also very much an exploration of memory.
Folman explores the unreliability of memory; how it can suppress painful or traumatic events, how one can reimagine an event completely differently after it has occurred and how one is often able to resurrect memory with persistence. The film ends suddenly as the animation transforms into real life footage - Ari’s memory has been recovered and the true horror of the situation hits home. The screaming of a computer generated image transforms into the wails of real living and breathing woman, all surrounded by the bodies of friends and loved ones. The power of that transformation is a penetrating vision and one that remains long after the film stops rolling.