Waltz With Bashir is a documentary film written, produced, directed, and starring Ari Folman, an Israeli filmmaker. It immediately sets itself apart from other documentaries by being the first animated documentary. That should immediately set off alarms in the back of your mind. The good news is that it absolutely works. To put it quite simply, this film is an absolute tour de force. After watching it, I immediately thought of countless other documentaries that could have used this technique to great effect.
The plot of the film revolves around Ari Folman, who twenty five years after the Israeli Lebanese war, can not remember the events surrounding the slaughter of thousands of innocent Palestinians in Beirut. Through numerous conversations with his friends from that time and other veterans, he begins to piece together his memories of the events as they occurred in 1982. The subject matter is grim to say the least, but somehow the film becomes about much more than that.
The film is just as much about memories and dreams and the unconscious self as it is about war. The movie is intentionally surreal and spends a decent amount of time working through people’s dreams and the reasons behind them. This film, more than any other film on the subject of war, really helped me to understand what post traumatic stress disorder actually feels like. There are reasons why people bury memories, and seeing those reasons displayed on film was extremely interesting to me.
The film also is an amazing history lesson. I knew absolutely nothing about this conflict, nor was I aware of the slaughter in refugee camps in Beirut. It was not taught in my history classes, and was enlightening to see what these young adults went through. The film is also at numerous points, especially close to the end, quite hard to take. The film does not shy away from showing an atrocity that was committed well after the Holocaust. The images that end the film are absolutely devastating.
In my opinion, this was easily one of the best films I have seen this year or any year, and I would argue that it is basically unforgettable. The art behind this film is evident in every frame and the film is meticulously well thought out. I wish that movies like this were shown in history classes. In many ways this film is the anti-Saving Private Ryan. It focuses on unheroic actions in war time, as opposed to the heroic actions seen in that film. It is valuable to see both sides of the coin, and it made me feel like I had truly learned something. This needs to be shown in classes. Do yourself a favor: Seek this movie out. Buy it. You will not regret it.
One Caveat: The film has a scene that is roughly a minute long where animated hardcore pornography is shown. I personally was not offended, but it is worth noting for people who may be sensitive to that.
Video: How’s it look?
The film was animated on a budget of roughly two million dollars by only eight animators. In the commentary, Ari points out that Pixar used forty animators to work on the Lightning in Finding Nemo. These animators are true artists and the film looks absolutely fantastic. The movie is absolutely stunning, and luckily the Blu-ray presentation is perfect. Presented with an MPEG-4 AVC encoding, there are no problems whatsoever that I could detect. Fantastic.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The original Hebrew audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. Also included is the English dub which is quite good. The transfer is pitch perfect and a wonderful surround experience. Sony did not pull any punches and delivered everything onto a 50GB disk. No quality is lost whatsoever. The track at times is playful, mixing in Hebrew punk or pop music with the sounds of bombs and tanks. Dialogue is crisp and seamless. This is an exemplary track, especially considering the financial constraints of the film.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Commentary track with Director Ari Folman – The director gives an excellent explanation of how the film was made, the research involved, and more background information on that time in history. This is an excellent commentary that is both informative and entertaining. Well worth your time.
Q&A With Director Ari Folman (480p, 9:19) – A very quick feature where the director basically repeats information featured in the commentary track.
Surreal Soldiers: Making Waltz With Bashir(480p, 12:03)- A quick look at how the film was made.
Building the Scenes – Animatics (480p), a collection of four scenes as they evolved in the animation department (Beirut Street Battle with Ron Ben-Yishai, The Fighting Arts with Shmuel Frenkel, Tank patrol with Dror Harazi, and Attacked in the Orange Grove.)
The Bottom Line
Waltz With Bashir is a perfect film. I can not think of any reason that a person should not see it. I look forward to the day that my children are mature enough to watch it with me. Luckily, Sony has provided an excellent transfer of both audio and video. Bump this film to the top of your To Do list. It is incredible, and this Blu-ray gets my very highest recommendation due to an excellent commentary track and solid featurettes.