Rated R for Some Disturbing Images of Atrocities, Strong Violence, Brief Nudity and a Scene of Graphic Sexual Content
What is "Waltz with Bashir?" That's the million dollar question. Part documentary, part psychological exploration, part mosaic memoir of the First Lebanon War, and part surrealistic fantasy. Director Ari Folman tries to do a lot, but success is just outside his grasp.
An old friend tells director Ari Folman about a dream he keeps having, where 26 vicious dogs chase him and demand that he surrender himself so they can eat him. The friend has tried everything to make the dreams stop, but nothing is working. So he asks Folman, who is a filmmaker, if he can shed light on his problem. Folman doesn't remember his time serving in the war, and believes that this is because he has disassociated himself from the trauma. Through interviewing those who were with him, he seeks to unlock the mysteries of the past.
"Waltz with Bashir" seeks to present old themes and ideas in a new light. The idea that is the core of the film, which is that war is hell and leaves scars that time cannot mend, is not new. We know that. However, by animating it as stream of consciousness documentary where the figurative occasionally becomes literal and timelines can blend together, Folman wants us to think about it in a new way. This isn't a movie of traditional battles or war clichés, but of the psychological toll war has on a person. By animating it and illustrating the psychological trauma, Forman gets us inside the minds of these characters in a way that a traditionally made film cannot. Or at least can't without coming across as excessively gimmicky.
Still, as innovative and daring as the presentation is, it still doesn't really present anything we haven't seen before. I'm always lenient on movies that take chances or push the boundaries of filmmaking, but even with its unique approach, I can't recommend it. It is difficult to form any sort of bond with the characters, partly because of how they are animated and partly because no one has a lot of screen time. Nor does anyone present ideas that we haven't heard before in other, stronger films ("The Deer Hunter" comes to mind).
Then there's the ending. It's hard to imagine anyone finding it successful. It just...stops. There's no sense of closure or that the film has said all wanted to say. I have nothing wrong with open endings, provided they are earned and utilized effectively. Here, it's as if someone has sliced off the final act of the film and started the end credits. That's how jarring it is.
So no, I can't recommend "Waltz with Bashir," despite my highest compliments to Ari Folman for his vision and ambition.