A Waltz to Remember

Still courtesy of Sony Classics

Move over, Romania: Israel is the new breakout national force in world cinema. Okay, so the festival-circuit cognoscenti have said as much for quite a while. But Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, which comes out tomorrow, would seem to be the icing on the holiday-season cake.

Named the Best Foreign Film by the British Independent Film Awards and the nation’s official pick for Oscar contention, Waltz is billed as the world’s first feature-length animated documentary. It features Folman and other combat participants (two of whom, for personal reasons, have their testimony recited by actors) plumbing their memories of the 1982 Lebanon War, in particular the horrific massacre that took place in two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut-not your typical animated-film topic. But the director makes a case for the film in the press notes: “War is so surreal, and memory is so tricky,” and very little archival footage is available. The animation’s fluid contours are not to be confused with the rotoscoping made popular by Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, whereby images are superimposed onto footage. Waltz with Bashir was created from scratch—2,300 drawings, to be exact.
The film is the latest in a growing line of recent Israeli critical and commercial successes. In 2007, Jellyfish won the Camera d’Or at Cannes, and earlier this year, The Band’s Visit, became the highest-grossing Israeli film ever released in the U.S. Last year, Beaufort, which depicted the hostilities in Lebanon experienced by writer-director Joseph Cedar, became the first Israeli movie in a quarter-century to earn an Oscar nod for Best Foreign Language Film. (Uri Barbash’s Beyond the Walls was nominated in 1984.) Thanks to Folman’s innovation, Waltz With Bashir has doubled its Oscar odds: It’s also eligible as an animated feature.