How does one avoid overly aestheticizing violence when using animation? By its very design, the new film by Ari Folman, Waltz with Bashir, which takes as its subject the notorious 1982 massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, carried out by Lebanese Phalangist militia, but allowed by controlling Israeli forces, invites serious questions of representation, not least because the narrative is told from behind thick layers of computer-generated cartoon imagery. That Folman, working ostensibly within the narrative boundaries of documentary, manages to circumvent nearly every one of these ideological and aesthetic concerns testifies to his intelligence, compassion, and sophistication as an artist. Despite a radical, unified look, the imagery in Waltz with Bashir ranges from the mundane to the dreamlike, and often those distinctions collapse, expand, and mutate right before our eyes. Folman isn’t gussying up a difficult chapter of history in accessible pop extravagance; rather he’s using a new form to investigate the terrible persistence, not to mention unreliability, of memory and perception, and how personal and political deceptions often go hand in hand.
Though Folman’s opening imagery—rabid dogs, their eyes lit like glaring headlights and their tongues wagging like loose slabs of meat, on a single-minded rampage through city streets aimed directly at the audience—would seem to situate the film in heavily shaded graphic-novel territory, the film is hardly so easy to pigeonhole. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Waltz with Bashir.