Sunday, January 11, 2009

Waltz with Bashir (Israel 2008)

Snarling, angry dogs; eyes ablaze, teeth bared and saliva glistening in the sickly yellow light of the dawn sky. They stampede through grey streets, knocking over everything in their way as they hurtle towards their quandary, who stands waiting at a window. This is the recurring dream that old friend Boaz tells director Ari Folman about one night in a bar, explaining that they are the 26 dogs he was ordered to shoot during the Lebanese war; he still remembers every face. Folman is surprised to realise that he remembers very little about his own experiences of the war, and sets about tracking down old friends and acquaintances from the past, in the hope of bringing into focus the elusive imagery he is able to dredge up.

What follows is a mesmerising investigation into Folman’s wartime experiences, detailing the subjective, slippery (and often hallucinatory) nature of memory and its ties to trauma, guilt, and confusion. Past and present, fantasy and reality, horror and beauty all blend into each other, further muddying the murky waters of the filmmaker’s hazy recollections. The result is undeniably stylised yet sufficiently substantial, ensuring that the viewer is instantly engaged with the subject matter and soon absorbed entirely into the collective recollection of Folman and his interviewees’ wartime experience as he unveils the mixture or trauma and utter bewilderment they experienced during a war they understood very little about.

The highly subjective and ambiguous nature of the film renders the reliability of events – and the parts Folman played in them – difficult to decipher, giving rise to the question of both individual and collective avoidance. This is a bold, powerful and personal examination of the war-mist which envelopes and obscure things that – from guilt or trauma – get pushed down into a dark corner of our conscience.

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