This sets Folman on his own journey uncovering repressed memories of his own experience. He interviews soldiers he served with and others who were there, asking them, “was I there too?”
His one memory is floating in the sea, looking toward the city, while a massacre of innocents takes place. With the assistance of an analyst he begins to realise that the sea represents his empathy and feelings. His proximity suggests that he saw something horrific or disturbing but was unable to act.
To animate a documentary might seem an unusual choice however it allows us as viewers to be drawn into the story – allowing us to distance ourselves from the immediate horror of war in a way that real footage does not. The conversations between these old friends is relaxed and honest. Two blokes sharing a coffee while the kids play on the floor, for example. Not the usual talking head with a black background.
It will not surprise you to learn that I was reluctant to watch this film. War films can be especially harrowing however it was nominated in the Best Documentary category at the Oscar’s (which was won by Man On Wire) and won a number of other film awards, including a Golden Globe. It is therefore regarded highly.
The tension builds as Folman, and us, move closer and closer to uncovering his memory of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, where a whole refugee camp of men, women, children and animals were killed. And then with less than two minutes to run, the animation flips to real, colour news footage of that time. Women are loudly mourning and strewn about them are bodies left to rot in a bombed out city. What we have been watching is not a dream. It is not an animation. It has been a documentary all along and my blood runs cold. I have been engaged with this story the whole way and am inevitably moved and saddened by these destructive actions and impulses of our fellow humans.
"Whether an eternity or just a minute, there was Frenkel at the junction with bullets flying past him in every direction. Instead of crossing the junction, I saw him dancing, as if in a trance. He cursed the shooters. Like he wanted to stay there forever. As if he wanted to show off his waltz amid the gunfire, with the posters of Bashir above his head. And Bashir’s followers preparing their big revenge just 200 yards away. The Sabra and Shatila massacre."
4 out of 5.