So I’ve been thinking on Waltz with Bashir after watching it. It’s such a hard movie to classify, to start with. For one, it’s an animated documentary. There’s interviews with real people and the re-enactments you’d expect out of a war documentary, but it’s all animated. Even when the scene is just somebody sitting in front of a blue background. For two, it could also be seen as a pure war movie in parts. The movie I ended up being very much reminded of was the final two-thirds of Full Metal Jacket (not the boot camp part). And yet it’s still nothing like that.
The plot of the movie follows the filmmaker, Ari Folman. He has a talk with a soldier who was in the Israeli-Lebanese war, and has a flashback to an event that sets him off to talk with other soldiers to try to piece together his own forgotten memory of the war. The movie mainly stays away from any of the politics of the war, simply focusing on the stories of what happened. This does hurt the movie a bit, since you’re really expected to know the conflict already. Then again, coming in with no preconceptions means you’re just taking in the accounts of the war, which is interesting in its own way.
The stories mostly focus on the violence of war. Saying that the message is “war is bad” is pretty obvious, but it does it in a way where you can’t blame either side, particularly after the ending. During one of the most effective scenes, a red car drives through the city battleground shooting Israeli soldiers, and the attempt to destroy it instead kills a hapless farmer and destroys several buildings. All of this is underscored by a punk protest song. It’s almost darkly humorous in a way.
The animation style is really the film’s strong suit. It appears rotoscoped, but isn’t. Instead, it’s animated by Flash. It does look a bit stiff at times, appearing too much like a motion comic early on. Once your eyes adjust to it, it’s absolutely beautiful, especially with colors. Ari’s flashback takes place in a world of yellow and black. He visits a friend in Holland in the winter, and when he revisits him in the spring, the grass takes a vibrantly different tone.
The film unfortunately falls apart near the end. Early on, the film feels like a series of stories. Ari interviews the various soldiers, and Ari is a character in the film. The stories feel like anecdotes, but in a good way. Near the end, however, it turns to him just interviewing two people. Ari himself completely disappears, and the two people he interviews are just in front of blue backgrounds. Sadly, this is also the most important part of the movie, the climax where you find out where the flashback happened and the horrific events of it. It’s a disappointment that a movie that bends the documentary in unique ways has to turn into what’s essentially just a documentary near the end.