- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

The animated feature about Israel’s actions in the 1982 war in southern Lebanon features a novel stylization, a pacifistic take on war and serious documentary credentials, all of which made it a surefire critical success. Indeed, it took home the National Society of Film Critics’ best picture award earlier this week.

You can now add “timeliness” to that list; “Waltz With Bashir,” opening locally Jan. 16, has gained added resonance in light of the renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“I thought it would cause a big political debate” in Israel, that “the film would be categorized as a very left wing, anti-Zionist film,” director Ari Folman told The Washington Times in an interview that took place before the Israeli bombing and ground incursion in Gaza. “But that never happened. Immediately it was hugged by the whole political spectrum. … I think that us filmmakers, we tend to underestimate the audience. They’re cleverer than we think, always.”

Mr. Folman’s film is a reminiscence of sorts, insofar as it’s a look back at his past experiences in the Israel Defense Forces.

But it’s also an examination, since he, quite literally, can’t remember much of anything from the time he spent in Lebanon.

“I turned 40 five years ago, and I wanted an early release from the Israeli reserve,” he explains, adding that the IDF would grant him his release if he met with an army therapist to discuss his time in the service. “After ten sessions, I realized that there were huge holes in my memory with regard to what had happened during the Lebanon war.”

Mr. Folman tells his story through a melange of animated styles, the most visually striking of which is the opening sequence. In this scene, a pack of wild dogs is seen tearing through the streets, viciously snapping at passersby as they gather under the apartment of Boaz Rein-Buskila, a friend of Mr. Folman’s.

The scene is like something out of an anime action flick, all motion and blurring and color. It’s jarring and discomfiting and thoroughly dissimilar from the rest of the film, which calms down the visual tics in order to allow greater closeness between the audience and the characters.

The interviews between Mr. Folman and his subjects were filmed first and then animated; the look is not dissimilar to the digital rotoscoping employed by Richard Linklater in “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” However, the technique used to bring those films to life is entirely different than that used by Mr. Folman. The images on the screen during “Waltz With Bashir” are entirely animated, not film enhanced by animation.

“I thought the rotoscope animation in many ways prevents you from getting emotionally attached to the characters,” he explains when asked why he preferred an entirely animated, although still realistic, aesthetic. “The technique is so much out there that it’s a problem.”

Connecting with the characters is important, since the subject matter is so serious.

The movie is a critical look at the IDF’s behavior in Lebanon, in which Israel stood by while Christian Phalangists massacred Arab refugees after the assassination of Lebanon’s president, Bashir Gemayel. Ariel Sharon was held responsible by an Israeli commission for failing to stop the killing of 800 people in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

Although dealing with a dark subject, Mr. Folman’s film maintains a dark humor for much of its running time, one he owes to his literary inspirations. “I read in my twenties many authors that participated in wars and then they could take a step backwards and look at war in a very ironic and funny way,” he says, citing “Kurt Vonnegut with ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ and William Saroyan, ‘The Adventures of Wesley Jackson.’ And of course, ‘Catch-22.’ Stuff like that.”

Despite the ironic detachment, he hopes that his film can do some good to educate those - especially those in Europe - with a distaste for Israel. “It shows Israel as a very tolerant country … for a lot of people in Europe, it is the first time to realize that Israeli troops didn’t take part in the massacre literally,” he says.

Horrorfest III

For the next week, the scariest thing at Union Station won’t be the bathroom floors. Horrorfest III invades the Phoenix Theatres Union Station 9 from tonight through Jan. 15, bringing another intense collection of horror movies for your perusal.

Each evening during the week will feature three of the following 10 flicks (for the complete schedule, make sure to check out the online ticketing).

The most buzzed-about feature is probably “The Broken,” a psychological thriller starring Lena Headey (“300” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) as Gina McVey, a woman whose life is thrown into chaos when she sees a doppelganger on the streets. Why has she lost her memory? Why are doubles plaguing her and her family?

“Slaughter,” supposedly “based on true events,” tells the tale of a woman who moves to Atlanta for a fresh start, only to be terrorized by a psychopathic pig farmer. “Perkins 14” looks like a zombie film, of sorts, insofar as it focuses on a rash of bloodthirsty maniacs chasing after a group of people just trying to survive the onslaught.

The latest quickie sequel to “The Butterfly Effect” series, “Revelation,” makes an appearance, and there is a Korean horror film called “Voices” in the lineup. “Dying Breed” looks like an homage to “Home,” the classic X-Files episode about a sick trio of inbred hicks living a life outside of society.

The trailer to “Autopsy” sports torture porn visuals and ends with the tag line “It’s not just for the dead.” Take a guess what that little offering might be about.

At the Web site (www.horrorfestonline.com), there’s a link to this year’s Miss Horrorfest competition and a link to another site sporting eight short horror films as well as trailers and synopses for the features in this year’s festival. Tickets are $9 per feature, and you’ll have a couple of chances to catch each of the program’s selections.

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