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Cat's Cradle: Waltzing with Bashir

Documentaries are created to present a specific view of a story. They are framed, filmed and often staged with a theatric. In the film Lo and Behold, Werner Herzog discusses how he had to request people to move back into a specific spot after they’ve stepped away to maintain the shot. Effectively, recreating the image from his own perspective.

This is a common practice in documentaries, to create a story that is based on personal memory. Here we have films like Hearts and Minds, where the intention is to present facts in a way that pushes the audience to one side. 

The audience could come to a similar conclusion that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was influenced by a myriad of postcolonial factors. However the film relies on tight editing and ironic cuts. In comparison, Waltz with Bashir attempts something different. 

Waltz with Bashir is an Israeli animated-documentary that retells the director’s involvement in the 1982 Lebanon War. The “idea” for the film came to director Ari Folman when he asked for a leave from the Israeli Military Reserve. He requested leave of the military, and in turn he had to go through therapy. These sessions amounted to eight, two-hour sessions where Folman discovered something: he talked about his experience in the Lebanon War for the first time.

This formed the groundwork for Folman’s film, since the catharsis of talking lead him to contact several other veterans who shared their story. What is unique about Waltz with Bashir is the fact it refuses to conform to a single truth, but stories that construct an aspect of an event. 

Ari Folman spends the majority of the film attempting to rationalize his connection to a massacre that happened in Lebanon. He is driven to find the truth about a reoccurring dream where he wakes up in the ocean as flares shower the invaded city. Though, the narrator has no memory of it.

The film attempts to explain this in several ways. First, is a story about a memory test. In the film, Ari talks to a friend about a test that involves showing subjects 10 photos with one fake. After a few viewings of the fake, they find it to be just as real as the rest.  

Then the second is a story of a young man’s experience with war. The young man formed a dissonance between himself and the war by viewing the war through a “camera.” Though at some point, the violence becomes too real and he looses this dissonance.  

The film presents either scenario as a possibility for Ari’s memories. While, this is further complicated when people have memories involving Ari that he can’t recall. Although presented for a thematic effect, the scene speaks to the larger theme of memory, what forms it and defines it. 

What Waltz with Bashir does that most documentaries don’t is lean on the fiction. The fact the film is animated and written out shows an influence on the piece. While the adherence to the true stories and the search for the inspiration of the dream lends to the documentary style. 

This is why Waltz with Bashir is an incredible documentary, since it eschews the format of a documentary to tell an authentic story of experiences. Ari is not telling the story of a large corporation like Enron or change our views like Hearts and Minds. Instead it’s the search of truth, the process of diluting memories to find a clear reality within the mire of one’s mind. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him

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