Thursday, May 31, 2012

Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story

by Ari Folman and David Polonsky, 177 pages

A friend's dream about vengeful dogs triggers a surviving Israeli soldier's search for the truth of what happened during his service in the war with Lebanon and his memories of the massacre of Palestinian civilians his mind has sealed off to protect him.

This story is powerful and I'm sure the animated film from which this graphic novel is adapted is harrowing and visually arresting; but static as it is here, one aspect of the artwork kept me from investing in the story and characters as much as I'd have liked.  Largely consisting of altered photography from the war, the images have built-in realism that works great for backgrounds (crumbling buildings, burning tanks, low-flying fighter planes) but clashes with the way the creators chose to portray the modern-day characters (their remembered younger selves look more drawn and less photo-like).  Their designs look like drawn-and-air-brushed-over photographs that have been enlarged or shrunken or flipped to fit the needs of the various panels and then pasted on top of the more realistic backgrounds.  They almost never alter the expressions, so pages are filled with the same flat, lifeless faces over and over again, cutting the characters off emotionally and visually from their deep, painful conversations and the terrible events around them.  This could be intentional, to show how they've distanced themselves from the trauma and are just going through the motions, but I mostly found it distracting, lazy-looking, and a drain on the emotional umpf.  Some of the other imagery, though, is haunting and the story's questions about memory and trauma and guilt are important ones.  If only those few bland, frozen faces were different!

I'd say watch the film, instead, but only if you're prepared to be presented with frames of harsh reality, as I assume it does as this book and ends with a handful of unaltered photographs of the massacre's victims.  I was not ready and had to shut my eyes and close the book.

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