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Friday, Nov. 27, 2009


He bet his house on this film

Director Ari Folman is wearing your basic directorial black, his well-open collar and small necklace a sure sign of Mediterranean roots. Over tea in Tokyo, the director — who does indeed look very much like his animated younger self in "Waltz with Bashir" — discussed the making of the award-winning film, the reaction to it, and his own experience of war.

News photo

Do you think the after-effects of an unnecessary war linger with soldiers more so than in a war of self-defense?

That's a tough question, because I never participated in a necessary war. I don't know what an American marine felt when he landed in Normandy to save the world, y'know? Did he feel better than the guy who was sent to Fallujah for no reason at all, apart from economic reasons? I don't know. I was in an unjustified war, which most wars are.

Many of the war stories I've heard from Vietnam vets are quite surreal, but that's something you don't see in a lot of war movies . . .

I think there's nothing realistic in war — the whole situation is completely crazy; everything is surreal. For me, after six hours in war, nothing made sense any more. This feeling was present in "Apocalypse Now" (1979), but the best war movie I've ever seen, by far, is a Russian film by Elem Klimov called "Go and See" (1985). You have to see it."

Your film covers a pretty tough topic — did you feel like the animation allowed people to approach it in a different way?

I get asked a lot if the animation gives people a little "distance" from the (events) that lets them jump into the story. But I don't think so; I read an interview with six war veterans, all with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and they said that the animation didn't let them hide anymore. Because if they would see a normal war movie, a fiction, they'd see the actor on the screen and say, I know this guy, I saw him the other night on TV, so it's OK, it's bulls--t, I'm safe. This film was different.

Why did you decide to use real footage for the film's coda?

It was not an artistic decision at all, but ideology. I just wanted to prevent the situation where someone might think this was a very cool antiwar movie with great drawings and cool music. . . . I think (it's) kind of a declaration: Look, this is really how it looks, without the illustration. This is life. It's very tough, and seems longer than just 50 seconds.

Why did you shoot the film on video first before animating?

Because we had a really low budget. I mortgaged my house, used all my wife's savings, that's how I completed the film.I knew the most expensive part would be the animation, and I had to know that dramatically the film would work. So I shot in the studio, with real people, as a reference for the animation. It's not rotoscoping; we didn't draw over the video, but it was a good reference for them. The animation process — believe me, it's not easy. It's cut-out animation, so for every part of the body, just to move your face, we'd have like 200 parts, and they'd use the computer to move each part separately.

How hard was it to find veterans willing to talk about the war?

I went on the Internet looking for stories from the first Lebanon war. We interviewed more than 900 people. But when I decided to concentrate on my own personal story and that of my friends, my very good friends got cold feet, so we replaced them with actors. The less they were my friends, the easier it was to connect.

What was the political reaction to the film in Israel?

The rightwing didn't trash the film, they were OK with it. It wasn't categorized as an anti-Zionist film, which we'd feared. From their perspective, the film was good propaganda, teaching people (overseas) that Israeli troops didn't do the (Sabra-Shatila) massacre; it was supported by the government, but it wasn't (committed by) Israeli soldiers. But the more the film gained international success, the more the criticism grew. After the Golden Globe awards, the left wing came out and really killed the film. But I didn't really give a damn because you can't please everybody. I think in any art form, especially film, once you're finished, it's not up to you anymore, it's not yours. It's owned by the public, and they can say whatever they like — as long as they don't get violent.

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