A soldier has a dream in Waltz With Bashir.
Q&A with the director of Waltz With Bashir
Jan 12, 2009 Web Exclusive
Waltz With Bashir, a haunting Israeli animated documentary that recounts events from the Lebanon War of the early 1980s, comprises a series of interviews conducted by director Ari Folman in an attempt to jar the suppressed memories of his participation in the war. Folman shot interviews with friends and fellow soldiers on video before editing them into a 90-minute blueprint, from which animators illustrated the recollections from scratch. Among other film and documentary credits, Folman was a writer for Be Tipul, the Israeli television show that was remade into HBO’s In Treatment. Waltz With Bashir won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.
I read that production on the film lasted about four years, so I was wondering how Sharon’s stroke affected your creative decisions when making it?
I thought he would rise up and wake for the premiere, but that didn’t happen. It didn’t affect the story. I don’t care about the guy, so nothing has changed since he went to sleep.
What has been the reaction to the film in Israel?
It’s been great. It was very well received—incredibly well. It’s a surprise for me how well it was received. I was waiting for debate. I was waiting for controversy. I was waiting for criticism of it being a very left-wing film, and all that did not happen. They took it just as a very personal story. It’s the most surprising thing that happened with the film.
What can you tell me about the 90-minute video that you shot on a soundstage? Does it correlate to the finished film scene-for-scene?
Most of it does. Of course, there were changes along the way and deleted scenes, but it is the main reference for the final work. The sound, the interviews, they are all taken from the cut that we did from the video. Basically, we took that video and made storyboards out of it, and then we moved the storyboards in animatic, and this is the film. But, of course, then we had to draw it from scratch. So, it is the reference for the whole film.
Would it be too rough to release on the DVD?
We will put it on the DVD, definitely. Not all of it, but at least 20, 30 minutes, so that you see how it looks.
And that answers the question I had regarding whether the dialogue used in the film was taken from these interviews.
Definitely, it was.
Your friend who had the dream about the dogs, I wanted to know if this was something that really was happening, because I’m curious if he still is having this dream.
Well, he says he doesn’t have the dream anymore, but I don’t know why. He never did any treatment or anything besides telling me that. I don’t know if this film healed him. I don’t suppose it did. He says it’s gone, but maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong.
As much as this film might have been therapeutic for you, at times did you feel like you were playing therapist during the interviews?
Um. [pause] More of a journalist than the therapist, I think. From therapy I did in my past, I think that they have a line that they follow, through guiding you. And I don’t know their line. I don’t know this profession at all. I just ask questions in a journalistic way. And the way I progress with my questions is the journalistic way of thinking. So, maybe this is why. It’s not about therapy. I’m not a great believer in psychotherapy.
It’s interesting, because although I got the sense that these were journalistic questions, it’s a very personal film. When you were interviewing your subjects, were there moments when you felt that they were withholding details or not being completely honest?
Why should they? They could have just said no. A lot of friends from my childhood that I asked to be interviewed in the film, they refused, or they agreed and then they ran away. They didn’t answer my calls anymore. So they could do that. I don’t see any logical reason to go through that.
There are short depictions of sex and eroticism in the film, and, at one point, an “eroticism for Bashir” is mentioned. Do you see a correlation between sex and war, or sexual repression and war?
Good question. Those leaders who sent those young kids to die in wars, maybe they don’t have enough sex, I don’t know. Seriously, I was told in France on a couple of occasions that it’s a very sensual film. I was surprised in many ways. But I think I can understand soldiers in battle—like the guy we have in the movie—that they have sexual dreams. It makes sense to me, because it’s the perfect escape from the situation that they are in. And then the issue with the porn is that—since we didn’t have any VCRs, any video players in Israel in 1982—for the first time for a lot of Israeli soldiers, to meet porn was in Lebanon, during the war. It came back so many times during the research, I thought it would be fun to deal with it in the film.
What was the title of the porno?
Here Comes the Plumber 2.
Did I see a boom enter the frame in the porno?
Yeah, yeah, of course. We loved doing it, although I was hassled a lot by my crew. Most of them didn’t like the idea, especially the art director [David Polonsky]; he didn’t draw the porn. Somebody else had to do it. The investors who bought the rights here in America for TV release, they didn’t approve of the porn, so we have an American version that everyone in the porn is wearing a Mark Spitz Speedo—you know, stars and stripes. And there is no penetration, of course, and I think it’s much more funny. You will see it on American TV; it is so funny.
I wanted to know if you’ve seen episodes of In Treatment—
The ones I wrote.
That’s what I was going to ask, how much the story threads…
I wrote it.
…from the show resembled what you had written for the original version.
Word by word. They were bought. We didn’t get, of course, any credits here.
Why is that?
I have no clue. They said that since we don’t belong to the American writers guild [Writers Guild of America], we can’t be credited. So they gave American credits here for the people who made the adaptation, but we wrote the screenplays, all of them. Yeah, it’s a weird story. But it’s the same. Did you see In Treatment?
Yeah, I couldn’t keep up with every single episode, but I saw most of them.
So there was the pilot there, the Blair Underwood part, I wrote it. I invented it, but an Israeli pilot. It’s the same. It’s the absolute same. They even changed the names of the supporting roles. Like in Israel, it’s Mikha’el, his best friend; they called him Michael here. So, it’s really funny, but somebody else got credit for that.
In the credits for Waltz With Bashir, it says that two voices were dubbed. Were these for the voices of your friends who did not want to appear on camera?
So who was rendered visually? Was it the actors?
No, we invented new faces.
You’ve spoken about how perhaps you made this film for your children. Is this why children walk into frame repeatedly when Ari visits the therapist?
No, he has five kids, and they’re always in the frame, in my life. They’re always there. You know, some families, it’s like that. Kids are everywhere, all the time. I thought, if I want to describe this guy, who’s my best friend, we have to put at least two, three, four, five kids in the frame all the time.
I’ve read your comments about the uselessness of war and how it’s nothing like what’s depicted in American films. Have you seen any war films, American or otherwise, that you feel captured this uselessness well?
There is the Russian film called Go See [Elim Klinov’s Come and See]. It’s the best war movie I’ve ever seen, by far. On the big screen, it’s just spectacular. I think the [closest] resemblance to reality to war I’ve seen in movies is Full Metal Jacket. The second part of Full Metal Jacket is how war looks. I even screened it to my very small team, just to show them how brilliantly he [Kubrick] stretches the time into one long scene. And this is how it was. And when we made the junction scene in our film [the waltz], I screened it to my team. I, of course, adore Apocalypse Now, because it [depicts] the war in a very surreal manner. And, other than those films, I don’t know if I am really touched by other [war] films.
You used a PIL song [“This Is Not a Love Song”] from the era, but why were modern songs written for the film?
Yeah, there are ’80s songs, the PIL and “Enola Gay” by OMD, and there was a remake that we did for a Cake song [“I Bombed Korea”]. Cake is an American band, and we just changed the words from Korea to Beirut. And there is a new song a couple of friends of mine wrote, (Good Morning) “Lebanon.” And, another Israeli song from the ’80s, originally [“Incubator” by HaClique]. But I’m not very much of an ’80s fan, so I had some good advice on that, because I couldn’t pick it myself.
Are you working on any projects now?
I’m adapting a Stanislaw Lem novel. Lem wrote Solaris, as you probably know. He’s a polish science fiction writer. It’s called The Futurological Congress; we will just call it The Congress. It’s wild. We’re gonna take some of the stuff we did in Bashir but we’re gonna adopt it to wild fiction animation, with a real actress that is gonna be drawn and play herself, basically. It’s gonna be her story.
Do you have the actress picked?
No. I just have ideas.