Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with BashirLast year, Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical Persepolis grabbed the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, helping to launch it on the road to international fame. It also brought a greater realization that animated films could be taken as seriously as their live-action brethren. Now, with Satrapi serving on this year’s Cannes jury,  Waltz With Bashir, Ari Forman’s Israeli-made documentary, seems to be garnering considerable buzz at this year’s festival. And if the reception reaches beyond Cannes, it’s possible that animation will have reached a new tipping point.

The reception from the press seems generally positive. For instance, in a report for Time entitled “Cartoon Pandas, Animated Nightmares,” Richard Corliss and Mary Corliss note that,

For the seven decades since Walt Disney made Snow White, most animated features have followed the Disney mold: cute and colorful, with talking animals and a coming-of-age plot meant to inspire and amuse. Even a seeming exception like Persepolis found saving humor in its girl-grows-up story. Ari Forman’s Waltz With Bashir is a break from all this: an animated documentary about the lingering, subterranean effects of war on the director and some old friends who had served in the Israeli Army during the 1982 incursion into Lebanon. They are still haunted by the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, perpetrated by followers of the assassinated Christian Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayal.

Waltz with BashirAri Forman’s background is as a director of live-action documentaries and feature films. He first used animation to open each episode of The Material that Love is Made Of, a documentary TV  series. That an established live-action director made a move into animation is no longer a surprise, even for a documentary filmmaker.  (Michael Moore, who used animation in  Bowling for Columbine, subsequently announced he was going to make an animated film, though he has not yet followed through on  it.)

Animated theatrical movies have been taken seriously before, but that acceptance in the West has often been fleeting. For instance, there was no real follow up to Ralph Bakshi initial successes, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies took several years before reaching American screens, and Bill Plympton’s independent features have performed poorly viz-à-viz his short films. But  with critical excitement over Waltz With Bashir coming on the heels of Persepolis, the increasing acceptance by live-action directors of animation and independent animation filmmakers finally starting to move into features, there is the promise of a new day dawning.

Whatever happens though, it looks like the next few years could be very interesting. In the meantime, check out the excerpt below and the film’s official website for trailers.

Author: Harvey Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff is a Los Angeles-based independent animation and film scholar specializing in labor history. He formerly taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was editor of Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine, and Graiffit (published by ASIFA-Hollywood). He is the founder and past president of the Society for Animation Studies.