“I’m not a therapist, I’m a filmmaker,” says documentarian Ari Folman, who weaves interviews about war and post-traumatic stress into this ravishingly animated feature. Told mainly from Folman’s point of view, Waltz with Bashir opens with a dream sequence full of wild dogs that is deceptively crude. But like the film itself, the meaning of the dream condenses ominously.
We know that the uses of animation run parallel to the uses of enchantment; Coraline is a perfect example of this. Bending reality, Coraline displays the fantastic escape of a little girl into a world where her deepest needs for attention are first met, but then produce grotesque consequences, like a “mother” who would imprison her in childhood. It’s therapeutic and it’s a fairy tale.
But then, so is this cartoon. Though Bashir is technically a documentary concerning the real world massacre of Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Christian Phalangist troops, and the young Israeli troops (Folman among them) who failed to intervene, it uses animation to represent more universal self-enchantments-repressions and sublimations. The film also includes a real psychologist who equates the worst nightmare of Jewish history into Folman’s moral failure. How can a people constantly reminding the world never to forget find themselves unable to remember a holocaust? Bashir‘s art is all about tucking truths into corners, and the screen is almost always filled with playful or frightening significances.
Oddly, the most controversial aspect of Waltz with Bashir lies in its conclusion: newsreel footage of refugee women bewailing the massacre. Yet I find it strange that fewer complaints have been raised about Folman’s use of animation for such a topic. Though this is a film about discovering truth in unusual ways, it never pretends that the journey though repression trumps the plain art of facing facts, and a newscaster featured in the film serves as this movie’s unacknowledged hero. The footage is Folman’s, and Waltz tells us that enchantment is part of life. But another use of fairy tales is to demonstrate how smart it is to avoid the woods in the first place.