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Mideast conflict forces animation to grow up

  • Story Highlights
  • "Waltz with Bashir" premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival
  • The movie is hotly tipped by critics to win the Palme d'Or
  • It would be the first animated feature to claim the coveted prize
  • "Waltz" deals with the director's experiences in the Israeli army
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By Peter Sorel-Cameron
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Everyone has their childhood favorite: whether it is the hand-drawn beauty of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs;" or the modern, computer-generated genius of "Shrek." Cartoons have always been a family staple in the movie industry.

"Waltz with Bashir" explores the effects of trauma experienced during war.

In 2002, however, the Academy Awards took a major step in legitimizing animated feature films, by giving "Shrek" the inaugural "Best Animated Feature" award. Since then several animations have sought to break new ground in mainstream film and help this traditionally childish genre to grow up.

This year's Cannes Film Festival sees "Waltz with Bashir," a brutal and unforgiving animated documentary movie, drawing a lot of attention from audiences and critics alike.

Based on a conversation between the director and an old friend of his, the film explores their shared experiences in the Israeli army and their part in the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.

In the film, a character sharing the director's first name visits former Israeli army colleagues to piece together the details of a three-day mission which he cannot remember.

The journey leads to the harrowing reality of Sabra and Shatila, where an estimated 700 to 3,500 Palestinian refugees were killed or injured. Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was sacked as then defense minister for his role in the incident.

From this brief plot outline, it is clear the film is not one for the family.

Even so the movie has caught the imagination of Cannes audiences, and has been included in the Official Selection. There is even speculation it could take the top honor, a feat no animated film has yet achieved.
Follow CNN's full Cannes coverage

For a project of its relatively small size -- the production team consisted of a modest 18 people -- it is amazing that "Waltz" has made it to these dizzying heights.

"I'm still pretty much trying to figure out everything that has happened with the film in the last five days since world premiere of the film here," director Ari Folman told CNN in an interview behind the scenes of the festival.

The making of "Waltz" took a total of four years and included heavy research by Folman. After producing a script, he shot a live action version of the film in a studio and then animated it, using the original version as a reference point for the final movie.

But if they already had a film made, why give himself the extra workload of converting it to animation?

"If you think about all the elements in the film you would figure it's: memory; lost memory; conscience; subconscious; dreams; hallucinations; drugs; war; death; nightmares. And if you want to go from one dimension to another dimension really with a lot of freedom, for me, the best way to do it would be to draw it," he said.

The movie is far more than a simple documentary account of the Middle East conflict: Flashbacks to war zones, dream sequences and moments where the unreal creeps into an apparently ordinary interview are dotted through the film, emphasizing the personal angle the director has been able to lend to the project.

"The film was kind of a therapeutic process," he told us. "While making the film I was recovering lost pieces of my memory in going to meet people who told me who we were and what we did together."

"In terms of facts it made me learn more about myself, but in terms of psychological manner I would say it made me connect better with what I had been, with what I used to be like when I was 19-years old."

In the movie, we follow Folman's journey to reclaim his past, and witness the affects of recovering memories from a highly traumatic experience.

More than just device for the director to exorcise the demons of his war experience, the film also carries an unambiguous message about the horrors of war.

"If you look at anti-war movies in the eyes of 16- or 15-year old guys they would say 'yes, war is terrible, but then again there is a lot of bravery and man friendship and being cool when you're there' -- and they say 'yes, it's terrible but I want to be one of those guys on the screen.' And I hope when young people watch my film they'll say 'I definitely don't want to be one of those guys.'"

This is definitely more than the run of the mill cartoon. And as such its inclusion in the Cannes Official Selection is justified and it would be a very worthy winner of this year's Palme d'Or, making it the first animated feature to win an award at the festival.

With this film, Folman and his team have proven the versatility and the artistic integrity of animation, adding a weight and seriousness to a medium more often associated with child-like fantasies.

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