MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

Waltz with Bashir

The greatest so far untapped potential in all of cinema is the animated documentary. The genre got off to a rousing start with Winsor McCay’s contemporary 1918 depiction of the sinking of the Lusitania, but virtually nothing has followed up that effort beyond a few educational programs such as Frank Capra’s Hemo the Magnificent. In 2008, however, there was finally a film produced that demonstrates what incredible power and flexibility the genre can have, and it was so unusual that the establishment didn’t even acknowledge what it was, nominating it not for a Best Animation or Best Documentary Oscars, but for Best Foreign Film, Waltz with Bashir, now available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Like John & Faith Hubley’s Moonbird and Nick Park’s Creature Comforts, the film takes recorded conversations-in this instance, oral records of a massacre committed by Christians against Palestinians in Beirut, witnessed by Israeli troops, who are doing the reminiscing-and brings them to life with stylized but recognizable animation.

Running 90 minutes, the film presents a series of anecdotes and dreams as its works its way from the beginning of Israel’s incursion into Lebanon to the incident that is at the core of its horror. The filmmaker, Ari Folman, also depicts the interviews themselves, creating a pointed contrast between the relative safety and tranquility of the conversations and the danger and tension of the warscape, a contrast that, to give just one of many examples, would not be available in a non-animated documentary format. Contrarily, if one approaches the film as a drama, then it is somewhat weak in character development and narrative coherency, but as a documentary, those concerns are less relevant, since its focus is more upon the failure of character of humanity as a whole, which it expresses with the evocative sorts of brushstrokes that harder images could never finesse. An animated documentary does not replace the standard documentary or other animation. It is, rather, an entirely different method that can be employed by artists to explore our world, and Bashir is an exciting initiation of what the genre can achieve.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The colors are sharp and stable. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has a powerful subwoofer and some good dimensional effects. The film is in Hebrew with optional English subtitles and has an alternate English track that allows you to eliminate the distraction the subtitles cause, but creates a bit more alienation in accentuating the stiffness of the animation. There are 16 minutes of comparison sequences showing the various stages of animation, a passable 12-minute production featurette and a 9-minute interview with Folman. The entertaining Folman also supplies a commentary track, talking about the actual incident and explaining how the film was executed. “This whole film was made by eight animators. One day in the studio we saw Finding Nemo, and we saw the ending titles and there were forty people responsible for the lighting. We laughed so much, because they had forty people responsible for the lighting and we had eight people doing the whole film.

“The whole film was shot, first, on video, in a sound studio, because I thought that the human ear is totally non-tolerant towards location sound for animation. We’re used to all those Disney, pretty, beautiful movies with crystal clear sound and we need that crystal clear sound. So, for example, this scene, here in the car, was shot in a sound studio. I was sitting in a chair, [the other actor] was sitting in a chair beside me. He was holding a plastic wheel of my son, and we were pretending that we are in a car, and that whole interview was done this way. Then we took only the sound and we drew the scene from scratch. There is no rotoscoping here. If you tell my animators that it’s a rotoscope film, they can commit suicide, so please don’t.

“Coming back home from the war to Haifa, where my parents live, was a matter of 20 minutes. This is it. When an American soldier comes back to Wyoming from Iraq, [he] probably travels for 6 days or 7 days. When we were in the middle of battle in Beirut and we got a leave for 48 hours, they took us, we went on a helicopter and after 20 minutes, 20 minutes, we were from middle of battle to the middle of pretty streets of Haifa. The contradiction was something unbelievable.”

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at www.DVDLaser.com

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