Waltz with Bashir is a movie that defies description. It is a documentary and a cartoon, a war movie and a psychological drama. It is also one of the most original films you will ever see, and the winner of a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
Recently, CC2K's Russell Davidson spoke with Waltz with Bashir's writer/director Ari Folman to discuss his film.
RD: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Mr. Folman. And congratulations on your Golden Globe.
RD: So this film started with a conversation with a friend about the old days, when you were both in the Israeli army?
AF: For the most part. That’s what kicked it off.
RD: And he mentions this dream he had….
AF: That’s what started it rolling.
RD: And had you always wanted it to be animated?
AF: Yes, it was always to be animated. It goes from realities to dreams to subconscious to war, which is probably the most surreal thing on Earth.
RD: One guy in the film, a soldier, talks of looking at war as through an imaginary camera, like watching a movie, thereby detaching himself from reality. I got the feeling at the end of your movie, when you showed the actual news footage of the damage done; you were jerking us, as viewers, from the “pretend” animation to the harsh real world. Is that what you were going for?
AF: It is in one way, but more than anything else, it was an ideological decision, not an artistic decision, telling you, you know, it’s not just a cool animated anti-war film, with drawings, in reality, thousands of people died….the ending, there was no way to do it animated, it didn’t exist in my brain.
RD: So that part had to be real, the rest, the surrealness that is war, had to be animated.
AF: Doing this film in a different way was not an option. People keep asking why it was animated. And I never really understood why this is asked. It’s an animated film. End of story.
RD: The art direction is tremendous in the film.
AF: Fortunately enough I had this guy, David, the art director, he’s Russian, and they have taste, I didn’t realize they did, what with what their Mafia wears, but in terms of artistic taste, he was the gate-keeper of exaggeration in the film.
RD: How did the Israeli government react to your movie?
AF: It was extraordinary, I was expecting a big debate, nothing happened. I don’t know, they sent the film all over the world, I mean, weird stuff is going on. I was not hassled at all by the government. I was hassled by the left-wing because the film didn’t take enough blame (for the Israeli government’s participation in the massacres), national blame. There’s only one thing to be taken from my film: War is stupid, it’s a waste.
RD: The film is made up of personal stories, individual’s remembrances of those times. I think the overall effect of this is that it’s more relatable, more down-to-Earth, than something more far-reaching.
AF: It was tough enough to go for personal stories. I can’t pretend to make anything national. I’ve been asked about “national repression” and “natural guilt” and “national loss of memory.” Well how can I tackle that? I can barely speak for myself.
RD: How long did it take you to make this film?
AF: Four years. I must tell you that when I started it I was a single guy, now I’m married with three kids. That was the biggest change I went through. But I think, in general, I became more connected to the guy I used to be when I was very young, when I was nineteen. I can identify myself with that guy, and that’s a huge thing, in life.
RD: One thing the film deals with is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
AF: Yes. This film opened a lot of wounds in Israel. It’s a big deal. Now I can’t even go into a restaurant without ending up at a corner table with some guy I’ve never met before telling me his horrific war stories. People see the film and want to talk. A lot of women have told me that this is the first time they’ve understood what their husband and brothers went through.
RD: The subject of memory comes up in the movie, and how we often fill in events we can’t or won’t remember with our imagination, as opposed to what actually happened.
AF: It’s about hiding, coping, not dealing with things.
RD: A defense mechanism, I suppose.
RD: The way your film looked, it reminded me of a graphic novel.
RD: Any ones in particular?
AF: Joe Sacco. You know Joe Sacco?
RD: I do. (“Safe Area Gorazde,” “Palestine,” et al.).
AF: In fact, it’s more of a moving graphic novel than an animated film.
RD: The opening sequence with the dogs was quite intense and intricate.
AF: I believe in openings. I believe in stunning the audience. So I put a lot of effort into that part.
RD: Thanks again, Mr. Folman. An impressive film.
AF: Thank you.