Tuesday, June 23, 2009

DVD review: "Waltz with Bashir"

“Waltz with Bashir” was not only one of the best films of 2008 – it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar – it also represented a cinematic watershed, blending and transcending the genres of animation, documentary and fiction.

Centering on the Israeli war in Lebanon during the early 1980s, “Bashir” is more than writer/director Ari Folman’s diary of his experiences as a young soldier caught in insanity of war. Unable to remember key sections of his time in battle, he sets out to interview comrades and strangers alike in an attempt to recover his own memories.

Folman accomplishes this through hypnotic animation that is somehow both hyperrealistic and dreamlike. The slow-moving images, which resemble cut-out photographs being slowly manipulated, are crude by Pixar standards. But this simplicity lends an evocative note to the horrible events they portray.

The DVD comes with a robust set of extras, which shed light on the process by which a combination of real people and actors were videotaped, and that footage was then animated using a combination of traditional animation, Flash animation and 3-D techniques. In the short but information-dense making-of documentary, we learn among other things that chief animator Yoni Goodman switched from drawing with his right hand to his left because he felt the results were “too pretty.”

For those who want more detail on the animation process, another feature shows the step-by-step transformation of four pivotal scenes from video to finished film. There's also a Q&A with Folman at the Cannes Film Festival.

And Folman supplies an engaging commentary track that adds new layers to the search for his lost memories. In one of the more amazing sections, he talks about how Israeli soldiers on leave would travel by helicopter from the frontlines of battle to quiet Jewish towns in 20 minutes, only to encounter residents who were barely aware of the war.

Movie: 3.5 stars
Extras: 3 stars

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