Sunday, September 20, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

“Waltz with Bashir” is not like your kids’ cartoons. It’s filled with images so harrowing that even some adults will have to turn away. They are images of war that people, in a perfect world should never have to see. But, as we all know, our world is far from perfect.

“Waltz” is a kaleidoscopic movie. It takes on a documentary-like approach with an Israeli film director interviewing fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon as he attempts to reconstruct his memories of the conflict. It is fragmented and has the flow of someone sorting through a box of his memories, dreams, and reflections, trying to figure out what were really real and what were just awful manifestations of his imagination.

The choice to present this – except for some agonizing closing images – using animation is appropriate. In dreamscapes, anything can happen and can flow and morph into anything else, something animation has always been most aptly suited to convey. And besides, did these things really happen? They seem almost too fantastical, too otherworldly, to be true. And some images like a huge nude woman back-floating in the sea clearly are.

Without a typical storyline pushing and pulling us through the movie, we are allowed to sit back and absorb essentially a series of episodes or set pieces. The best of these all revolve around beautiful, almost unexpectedly lyrical scenes within the context of a war movie where music and image engage in intricate little dances.

There is a sequence where young soldiers glide down country roads and through deserted streets of a shell-shocked town within the “safety” of tanks. They bop and sing to a folksy, Dylanesque tune and pass a bag of candy back and forth as they casually crush sides of buildings by turning too sharply and rolling over parked cars, crushing them like toys. Then, silently, a bullet pierces a soldier’s throat and the music, like the tank, is stopped dead in its tracks.

Then there is my favorite scene. A soldier, overwhelmed by feelings of fear and confusion over the whereabouts of the enemy – or even the very nature and identity of said enemy – pirouettes into the middle of a street and sprays the surrounding buildings, some adorned with giant posters of national hero President-elect Bashir Gemayel, with an orgy of bullets while a delicate waltz of tinkling piano keys defies the images on screen.

Ultimately, “Waltz with Bashir” is a creative examination of post traumatic stress disorder. There is an astute scene where our narrator, just home from the war, walks the streets of his home town. He moves about and turns his head from side to side peering into restaurants and down alleys at normal speed while everyone around him is racing at accelerated speed. It is as if his mind has been chemically altered by his experiences and now everyday life seems unbearably trivial, everyone taking everything for granted.

In this sense, it’s a movie that demands to be experienced – and occasionally endured. It stands alongside such classics as “The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home.”

“Waltz with Bashir” is rated R for some disturbing images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity and a scene of graphic sexual content. It screens at the Grand Theater on Thursday, October 8 at 3:00 and 5:30.

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