Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 11:15 UK

Animation tipped for Cannes glory

By Razia Iqbal
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Cannes

An animated documentary about a massacre in the Middle East is the current frontrunner to win the coveted Palme d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

A scene from Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir uses animation to portray fragmented memories
Waltz with Bashir is a daring and provocative attempt by director Ari Folman to bear witness to an atrocity committed during his stint in the Israeli army in 1982.

The invasion of Lebanon, codenamed Operation Peace for Galilee, was an attempt to occupy the country as far as the capital Beirut.

It ended in what many think of as the worst atrocity of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, when at least 800 Palestinian civilians were massacred at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during Israel's invasion.

They were murdered by Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel while the Israeli forces encircled the camps.

Folman was among them. His film is a personal journey with his own narration accompanied, unusually, by animated images.

The director says he had blanked the massacre from his memory until he started making the film.

"I think more than ever that I was used. We were all used - cynically used," he says.

'Rage and anger'

"You are 18 years old, they send you there, you go there on a plane. You land at the international airport in Beirut and you see people get killed for nothing.

"When you look at it now, the rage and the anger is even stronger than it used to be before I made the film.

A scene from Waltz with Bashir
The documentary includes a number of surreal dream sequences
"Maybe that's because I established family in the last five years and I have suddenly three kids. I look at them and they're boys and think: 'I will never let them do the same things I did.'

"This film is one of the things in order to persuade them not to take part in any violence whatsoever."

Using classic animation combined with 3D, the film has a surreal quality - not least in its several dream sequences.

It has struck a chord with critics at Cannes, where it has been described as "vivid", "politically combustible" and "peculiarly potent".

While making the movie, Folman interviewed many fellow soldiers who, like him, had repressed memories of their time in Lebanon.

Their responses are heard in full, with illustrators crafting images to accompany their fragmented memories.

In what could be considered a controversial element in the year Israel celebrates its 60th birthday, a psychiatrist in the film draws parallels between the Sabra and Shatila massacre and the Holocaust.

'Machinery of killing'

"What I was interested in was the chronology of the massacre," says Folman.

"I come from a Holocaust survivors' family. As a child I couldn't figure out how the machinery of killing would go on.

Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman
Director Ari Folman served in the Israeli army in the early 1980s
"When did people know? How many people knew? I would say it would be true for any other mass killing, wherever it takes place."

Using music from the early 1980s, the film has a pace and texture that Folman hopes will attract young people.

It is a demographic, he says, that is instinctively anti-war but still needs to be guided.

"A lot of anti-war movies, if you look at them through the eyes of teenagers, they get it all wrong.

"Yes, they see war is useless. But they think: 'It's terrible but I want to be out there - I want to go through that experience.'

"And I hope that when young people watch this film they will think: 'No, I don't want to be part of this. It has nothing to do with my life.'"

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