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Ali Folman’s Waltz with Bashir was easily my favourite film of last year. Aside from its stunning visual qualities, its focus on the effects of war on a national and personal consciousness is rendered with a profound and beautiful synergy. The filmmaker tries to excavate recollections of his time as a soldier in the Israeli army during the Lebanon war, most specifically he is struggling to remember the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and much of the film is concerned with interviews with fellow soldiers, which lead to numerous flashbacks.

Folman’s embrace of animation as a mode of representation is particularly interesting given his controversial subject matter, yet the film’s themes are never cheapened or manipulated. The association of such an aesthetic with notions of the surreal and the fantastical underlines the subjectivity of the film’s memorial thematic agenda, enabling Folman to justifiably weave the visually ‘impossible’ spheres of recollection and hallucination that dominate. Animation also allows a grander and more conspicuous handling of symbolism, and the film positively glistens with the boldly emblematic quality of its compositions (consider the dramatic airport sequence).

The animated register is therefore crucial in imbuing the representation of memory with a kind of inverse veracity: unreality paradoxically enables truth. More specifically, the manner in which private internal spheres are associated with a visual grammar removed from everyday realms of recognition, allows a fresh perspective on the film’s retelling of national and global histories. In the final scene, animation is seamlessly replaced by documentary footage of the horrific aftermath of the massacre; this conjoins Folman’s figurative and interpretative approach to a fixed and specific quotation of actuality. As such, the film negotiates a complex but highly successful balancing of private and public realms.

Animation is deployed in another of last year’s arthouse hits, Persepolis. The film’s visual style replicates Marjane Satrapi’s biographical graphic novel, and follows Marjane’s childhood in oppressive Iran, her unhappy escape to Europe, and her return to her homeland as a young adult where she finds its tyranny incompatible with her rebellious individualism. Like Bashir, the broader palette of animation enables a more profound and pointedly figurative imagery, giving the treatment of personal and national memory a unique vividness absent in orthodox documentary forms.

What is telling about both films is the manner in which the codes and systems of memory and history are united through recourse to a stylistic shift. Animation emancipates the hitherto immoveable discourses of the past, causing the previously fixed nature of the documentary image to be compromised. Both external reality and internal subjectivity are united through a representative, rather than reflective aesthetic.

David Forrest

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