30 May 2009

Waltz With Bashir

Man. I'm sorry. I just didn't like this movie. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the film is an animated documentary of sorts - I'm hesitant to call it an actual documentary, because some of the characters aren't real people, but composites - about one man's memories of the 1982 war in Lebanon, and particularly the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. The protagonist of the movie is a guy who was fighting on the Israeli side at the time, and now (in 2006) realizes he has no memories of the events. So he goes around talking to people and trying to reconstruct what happened. The motivation for this search is a dream he has of bathing in the sea with some of his army buddies. The movie dutifully follows him around for these conversations, which are not only with friends and others who fought in the war, but also with a psychologist, a journalist, etc.

So, why didn't I like it. The movie has been roundly adored by critics, who see it as a gripping and compelling portrayal of the war, and are enthralled by the use of animation. They see it as a powerful combination of memoir and historical reportage, as well as an aesthetic marvel. And I just can't seem to agree. Which is odd, because in some ways, you'd think I'm damn near the ideal viewer of the film; I'm interested in history, but I also really like animated movies and experimental works on memory, etc. 

So for starters, while I thought the artwork was beautiful - had it been in graphic novel form, I probably would have loved it - I really didn't like the animation. It's alternatively choppy or too smooth, which gives the characters an eerie bobbleheaded doll kind of effect. It registers as totally lifeless for me, which makes it hard for me to sort of get absorbed into it. 

Secondly, the psychologizing, and overall kind of narrative of the film, seemed extremely trite and simplistic to me. The pseudo philosophical musings on memory and dreams and war weren't at all provocative to me. Actually, they were mostly boring. And that's really the biggest problem of the movie for me - it was dull, not particularly profound, and simultaneously quite upsetting. 

Also, I found myself wondering why the movie was animated. What was the animation doing that live action couldn't? So yes, there were dream sequences, but it's not like those could have been done in live action. No, I think the real motivation behind the animation was that it allowed the filmmaker to show lots of really graphic, upsetting stuff which would simply be overwhelmingly violent in live action. But this seems to me like an effort to have it both ways - if the animation makes it palatable, it also anesthetizes it and makes it less real. The constant dream sequences, and endless talking about dreams, as well as the style of animation (all of which reminded me a lot of Waking Life, which I think this movie owes a lot to) made it hard to remember that these were real events. Which made it less interesting, because as a story it's just not that compelling, and then you would suddenly force yourself to remember that it WAS real and feel guilty/irritated.

I dunno. I guess I could keep trying to list reasons I didn't like the movie, but ultimately, it boils down to I just didn't enjoy it or find it compelling. I don't want to argue that it's a BAD movie - it's just not one that I particularly care for.

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