Animated movies fill eyes, documentaries fill heads and foreign films show emotions are alike even when subtitled. Two of those impressions in one movie often come along, from the foreign doc Triumph of the Will to the personal politics of Persepolis. Combine all three — smarts, heart and visual splendor — and you have Waltz with Bashir, the movie robbed blindest at the recent Academy Awards.
Ari Folman's self-analysis of Lebanon War nightmares could have been nominated as best of three Oscar categories: foreign language film (which it was, losing to Japan's even more obscure Departures), documentary feature or, with blazing originality, animated feature. I've never seen an animated documentary in any language. The next one has a tough act to follow.
Folman is a Israeli army veteran of the 1982 war with Lebanon, plagued by nightmares jumbled with images that include snarling dogs, a beachfront battle and encountering an erotic sea nymph while lying injured on a ship's deck. When awake, Folman doesn't remember his wartime experiences, except that they involve mass tragedy and deep guilt. He worked out his dreams and mental blocks by visiting former Army buddies, and an amusingly straightforward psychologist friend.
The animation technique — think A Scanner Darkly people and Watchmen mindscapes — enlivens the nightmares better than a conventional documentary would, while talking heads become interesting to watch when listening.
Current events make Folman's crises of conscience 27 years ago seem topical today, regardless of nationality. Waltz with Bashir astonishes by combining three genres into a movie people will remember long after that Japanese flick.