The yellow eyes of the dogs, one of the first images in Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz With Bashir, sear the frame with their surreal heat. The sensation is not about burning, not in any traditional understanding, because the eyes in combination with the ferocious barking, disassociated from the foaming, disjointed mouths and bodies ripping through the streets of a dreamscape, have no heat themselves. They have no connection to the real world at all. They are animated.
Everything on the screen is drawn to draw us in deeper. The yellow might stir memories of the splashes of color from Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City, but there the color burst out of the frame in titillating fashion. Here, it is all about establishing the nightmarish quality of the image.
Writer-director Folman’s animated self is sitting in a cafe with a friend who is recounting his recurring dream about the dogs of war that have been hounding him since his tour of active duty in Lebanon in 1982. The friend asks Folman if he has any memories about the war and its atrocities. Folman tells him no, repeatedly, as he seems to be asking himself as well, “Do I remember? And if not, if I have no nightmares like this, why not?” And so begins Folman’s journey, his quest to track down surviving soldiers from that time, to ask them of their own experiences, to see if through their memories he can trigger his own.
The animated style has been praised as a revolutionary and necessary means of capturing the absurdity of war and, it seems, the move has garnered the respect of the international film community. Waltz With Bashir (Israel) is the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, but the choice succeeds on a deeper emotional level.
Folman’s film dares to explore the sickeningly surreal, nightmarish dreamscape in a medium that transcendsour intrinsic connection to the unconscious world of the mind. Animation activates the dream world as a different realm and allows it to be more unsettling.
For me, watching Bashir recalled the Pink Floyd song “The Dogs of War” from their 1987 album A Momentary Lapse of Reason. In it, the lyric professes that “the dogs of war don’t negotiate/the dogs of war won’t capitulate/they will take and you will give/and you must die, so that they may live.” That was the feeling I had as the final credits rolled. Those dogs from that first dream, those dogs of war took everything from Folman, they left him for dead but he refused to remain in the grave. He heard the call, the music of chance, if you will, and rose up dancing to reclaim his life. And in the stirring final frames of Waltz with Bashir, life as we know it does, indeed, return to Folman and likely others who have survived such horrors. Grade: A
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