Waltz With Bashir may not have won the documentary Oscar it was up for on Feb. 22, but the animated film represents a seismic shift in the documentary field.
Marjane Satrapi's 2007 film Persepolis broadened the capabilities of animation to a more mainstream audience, but her childlike drawings were specifically tailored to her story of growing up in Iran. Here, director Ari Folman has opened up the effects of animation even further.
Folman's choice to animate his film about the 1982 Lebanon War may seem jarring at first, but the account soon transitions into a thoughtful and adept discourse on military service and how the Sabra and Shatila massacre came about. Following a group of adult males recounting their time in the Israeli military during the Beirut war, Waltz with Bashir (rated R for images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity, and a scene of graphic sexual content) quietly disappears its format into the subject matter at hand.
A longtime filmmaker, Folman realized while speaking with an old friend about the friend's recurring dream from the time that he himself could not remember anything from his service. He began to speak with other friends and fellow soldiers to recover some of his memories.
Unencumbered by the limitations of the footage gathered in a live action documentary, Waltz with Bashir seamlessly shifts between drawn presentations of interviews with friends, flashbacks, and dream sequences.
Slowly, the musings and articulations of Folman and his friends paint the picture of how these formerly young men reacted to the outsized situations they found themselves in and how the ripple effects of war continue throughout life.
Waltz with Bashir builds to an emotional climax, culminating in the film's only live action sequence, newsreel footage of the immediate aftermath of the massacre.