This 2008 documentary film, told through a striking form of animation, remains a powerful anti-war message for one and all.
Waltz With Bashir (ואלס עם באשיר—Vals Im Bashir) was written and directed by Ari Folman. It tells the story of the 1982 Lebanon War, with an autobiographical focus on the long-term effects of PTSD on memory.
It’s an excellent film and one worth celebrating here as the world continues to reel from the efforts of one megalomaniac.
Waltz With Bashir’s Devastating Reality
Waltz With Bashir is told in the form of an animated documentary, with the look of a graphic novel.
But it also followed on from Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2007) and intelligently tackling the topic of war in the Middle East.
Ari Folman was only 19 in 1982 and served in the IDF infantry. The film begins with him visiting a friend called Boaz, who also fought in the war.
Boaz admits he’s plagued by nightmares.
He describes 26 furious dogs attacking his house in Tel Aviv. He had been picked to shoot dogs during the war as he was unable to shoot people, lacking the final nerve.
However, to his surprise Folman struggles to remember anything from the war.
But after meeting with Boaz, that night he has vague memories from the Sabra and Shatila massacre that left over 3,500 civilians dead.
His only memory is of bathing in the sea next to Beirut with comrades whilst flares gradually fall into the city (incidentally, the music in this scene was by German-British composer Max Richter).
Folman heads off to see a childhood friend, who’s a therapist. The advice he receives is to find those he fought with in Beirut to discuss their memories.
He finds former soldier and journalist Ron Ben-Yishai. They help him reminisce about the war in 1982 and he starts to recall more memories.
And although Waltz With Bashir is a sombre and devastating war documentary, it also has its moments of absurd humour. Particularly noting the inexperienced, reckless young men handed a tank to traverse around the streets of a city.
However, Folman eventually unlocks his memories for a terrible realisation—he was in a ring of soldiers around the Palestinian refugee camp.
And he has to acknowledge he was responsible, amongst his numerous peers, for firing flares into the sky to light the camp.
Meanwhile, the militia inside was able to see, and carry out, the massacre.
The result is Folman’s mind blocked out his sense of guilt surrounding the event, traumatised enough to create total amnesia.
The Bashir from the film’s title regards a young soldier who has a moment of hysteria, waltzing in combat as he lost his senses to the mania of war.
Waltz With Bashir remains a very impressive documentary film. Along with its vivid animation style, the soundtrack is outstanding.
But it’s the intelligent way it tells its story that’s so memorable.
We first watched it in London back in 2008 in a cinema with barely anyone inside. Yet the film’s critical acclaim was widespread.
And we think it remains one of the most important modern films on atrocities and the horrors of war. Watch it if you can—this is an important message for the world.
The Production of Waltz With Bashir
Waltz With Bashir was a four year project, being a feature-length documentary film.
It’s primarily animation that tells the story, but there are also some pretty devastating archival scenes of the 1982 massacre.
Israeli animator Yoni Goodman was responsible for inspiring the artistic style of the film. It’s a combination of Adobe Flash cut-out animation alongside hand drawn work and 3D CGI.
On a $2 million budget, it went on to take $11.1 million in revenue.
It was also critically acclaimed, winning a Golden Globe, César Award, BAFTA, and an Oscar nomination.
However, the film remains banned in several Arab nations (most notably Lebanon). This was at the behest of the Lebanese government, although many cultural figures have protested that decision.
But unofficial copies, and private screenings, take place furtively across the country.
It’s difficult to tell stories like this. But Folman’s take created something visually stunning to make it mass marketable, whilst also delivering a quite harrowing message.
And for that, we think the film deserves a special place in cinematic history.