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Saturday, August 27, 2011

WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008)

‘Animated documentary’ sounds oxymoronic, but Ari Folman’s daring piece of creative journalism might be the most exciting leap in the form since Errol Morris redefined documentary technique in THE THIN BLUE LINE in 1988. The niggling difference is that every documentarian since Morris has gained from his work, while absolutely no one else has taken the animation plunge. But even if this film proves sui generis, Folman’s film, with David Polonsky heading the visual realization, counts as a stunning success in its own right. We follow an Israeli vet who is trying to piece together his shattered memory of the ‘80s war & occupation in Lebanon. Specifically, his part in the infamous massacre of Palestinian refugees by the local Christian ‘Falangists.’ Did the Israeli army just let this happen? Did they encourage it? Where had he been at the time? We go along on interviews with men he fought with, commanders who gave the orders and reporters who had their own viewpoint on what was happening. Astonishing stories, and the visual technique lends a kind of mesmerizing, horrible beauty to the face of war. It draws you in & distances you at the same time. And unlike the ghastly rotoscope-based/motion-capture techniques, it doesn’t deaden expressions or emotion. The computer assisted drawings remain jarring & alive, always at the service of the stories. Folman probably makes a mistake at the end when he shifts to actual video footage of the horrific scenes in the Palestinian Camp, but you’ll see why he felt obligated to do it.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: No need to be a film purist, use the English track on this one.

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