Waltzing on the page

Now the graphic novel of 'Waltz with Bashir' version can contend for whatever prize is given out for this medium.

waltz with bashir book 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
waltz with bashir book 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Waltz With Bashir By Ari Folman and David Polonsky Metropolitan Books 128 pages; $18 Although Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir didn't win the Oscar, it has collected film festival and critics' awards around the world, and now the graphic novel version of this work can contend for whatever prize is given out for this medium. As you've probably heard by now, the film is an audacious blend of documentary, memoir and rich animated visuals. It focuses on Folman, who served in the IDF in the First Lebanon War and was just outside the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982 when the Phalange massacred hundreds of Palestinians. As the film, and the book, open, it's 20 years later. He knows he was near the massacres, but doesn't have any memory of the event, which disturbs him. When he has a drink with a friend who also served in Lebanon and the friend recounts a disturbing (and scarily rendered) dream of dogs running wild, Folman decides he has to reconnect with friends who served in Lebanon until he can remember what happened there. Without the stunning imagery, this most likely would have been a standard talking-heads documentary that would have gotten an 11 p.m. screening on Channel 1. But Folman chose to collaborate with David Polonsky (who is credited as co-author of the novel), an imaginative and gifted artist, who supervised the art direction and animation of the film. The animated visuals have a mesmerizing dreamlike quality that gives every spoken word a far greater impact. The book, which follows the film almost exactly, certainly works as a graphic novel. Like Art Spiegelman's Maus novels, which dealt with recollections of the Holocaust, the book version of Waltz with Bashir tells about a tragic event in a medium associated with Archie and Spiderman but doesn't trivialize it. For some quirky talents who grew up reading comics, graphic novels are the perfect way to illuminate all elements of an experience. But Folman and Polonsky initially gravitated toward film rather than the graphic-novel format for a reason, and the experience of reading the novel is inferior to seeing the film. Without the voices and the sounds, it simply isn't as rich a work. Another aspect of the film that is lost in the novel is movement. Certain incidents that must have happened in real life with lightning speed unfold with hallucinogenic slowness on screen, in a way that mirrors and emphasizes the speaker's perceptions, whereas on the page, they take a panel or two and lose that haunting quality. On the other hand, the novel gains by the fact that you read it at your own pace and can linger over the details of each panel. Even something as simple as a stormy winter night on the Tel Aviv beach is rendered with great beauty and intricacy. The row of corpses laid out to be transported back to Israel is even more disturbing when you can take your time with it. And I found the photographs of the Sabra and Shatilla victims at the end to be even more moving and tragic on the page than on screen, maybe because I've just seen too many news broadcasts. In any case, each detail of Folman and Polonsky's vision can get the full attention it deserves in this printed version.