(24/10/008) – Ari Folman’s animated memoir/documentary on the 1982 Lebanon War is an instigating development in both graphic/animated and documentary films. Focusing on the director’s own attempt to recover suppressed memories of the events surrounding the Shatila and Sabra massacres, the film manages to create a strange sense of reality often missing from interview and re-enactment documentary films. It does much more than give a personal view on the events of the war: it also looks at the attempts of growing men, who were once soldiers, to forget what they have witnessed in order to try and lead normal lives. 20 years later, they try to recall what they had hidden about themselves from themselves.

From a Western European perspective it is difficult to view the Middle East, and especially Israeli/Palestinian relations, without personal bias towards perceived injustices and threats felt by either side. The focus of Waltz With Bashir is not so much on the reasons for the invasion and massacre but on how people live with things that they witnessed or carried out when they were younger. The film is much more concerned with humanity than political vindication or justification.

Technically, the film is visually reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner, Darkly, as well as Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic memoir, Persepolis. As opposed to Linklater’s technique of animating over shots of live footage, the animation in Waltz With Bashir is not animated over film cells, despite achieving similar visual results. The interviews and action were filmed on video, which was used as a visual aid to compose storyboards from which the film was created from scratch in animated form. Animation director Yoni Goodman and art director David Polonsky succeeded in forging a distinctive sense of reality. As this is a film largely about memory and war its artificial colours and lines give it a necessary surreality which makes it appear simultaneously believable and dreamlike.

As well as the look, the film maintains a great balance through editing and soundtrack, moving back and forth from the present day scenes of Forman’s narrator visiting friends to talk about the war, to the high impact scenes of the interviewees’ memories of the war. As in Terence Malick’s Thin Red Line, Forman focuses on both the intensity of battle and the lulls in the fighting in which strange things occur �" things outside the violence which stick in the memory long after the bloodshed and carnage are erased.

Waltz With Bashir is in the programme of the 52nd London Film Festival (24 and 27 October). It will open in the UK on 21 November 2008.