A simple premise and brave. To publicly explore one's involvement, whether passive or active, with historically violent moments must require a healthy dose of courage and an unswerving commitment to acknowledge the truth of one's own life and it's impact on others - for better or worse.
A friend recounts a dream, knowing full well why the 26 angry dogs are threatening him, to seek meaning and perhaps the empathy of another who had lived the same situation. Director Ari Forman did not have vivid memories of his time in combat - until after that conversation and his own dream appeared, leading him from person to person in an effort to piece together a part of his own haunted past.
He journeys to the north to visit a friend long since moved away. Cold and dispassionate, the frozen landscape establishes the type of person. He has moved on. He did what he did and has moved on to a successful life in a distinctly different world. Throughout their interactions, the two men share a cigarette - passing it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. He has a son. Can Forman draw them playing together in the snow with the toy gun? Yes. Draw but do not video. The meaning is clear: a video is permanent and captures what is and has been. A drawing leaves context, time and place obscure.
The animation provides freedom to make dreams real and to obscure the brutality of the truth. Color is used sparingly. Details are emphasized and encourage the viewer's mind to meander down other paths only to be brought quickly to focus. Again and again, the questions of memory, truth, reality and dream emerge.
Another conversation reveals a more disturbing layer: Forman's own parents were victims of a concentration camp in WWII. In the memory he's unraveling of a different time but similar place, was he the guard to the camp?
The soundtrack is the primary source of mood: the spirit of youth in gun fights, dancing in disaster, uncertainty in beginning and the effort to retain a sense of life in the lulls in between.
I suspected the end before I was ready for it. The choice to use reality in place of animation was appropriate. An appeal to not consider the previous hour and a half as entertainment but to acknowledge it for a fantastically horrible part of history. When the music stops playing, the dancing stops.