War Wounds in Waltz With Bashir

Ari Folman, an Israeli filmmaker, takes on his country's Vietnam

For Folman, the son of parents who survived Auschwitz, the issue of personal responsibility and testimony seem to take on special resonance. But he acknowledges that memory can be distinct from reality, which is where the animation comes in. "Using animation is like magic. You have freedom to go from one dimension to another pretty quickly, a freedom to move from the subconscious to the conscious, from dreams to memory and hallucinations and testimonies."

It was David Polonsky, the film's head illustrator, who was responsible, together with head animator Yoni Goodman, for translating Folman's recollections and reporting into living, breathing images.

Polonsky emigrated with his family from Kiev, Ukraine, to Israel at the age of eight in 1982, the year the Lebanon War began. Perhaps it is his feeling of being slightly outside of Israeli society, he says, that drew him to observe it through art. Painting almost every frame in the film, which took almost four years to make, he found himself in the role of illustrating someone else's memory and dreams of a place he had never been. In drawing Lebanon, he took inspiration from Israel's own landscape, so close geographically to the north of the country where he grew up.

In the heat of the fight
Ari Folman and David Polonsky/Sony Pictures Classics
In the heat of the fight

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"How do you depict a dream? You can write it down, which would be fairly accurate, but if you want to film it, you would have to have a set and actors," he said. With animation, however, "you get rid of the 'middle-man.' And in some cases, you have a tool that is more truthful."

Walking out of the film, which has been screening in Israeli theaters since June, a father in his fifties describes to his 25-year-old son how his unit in Lebanon was ambushed by young Palestinian boys with RPGs in scenes similar to one depicted in the movie. "For me, this was hard to see," he says of the movie, his eyes wide and almost unblinking, still absorbing its images. Looking at his son, who brought him to see the film, the man who requested to only be identified as Eli says before turning away: "I don't want my son to go through what I did."

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