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Lebanon Review

Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon is a unique breed of film - one you won’t want to watch twice. There are no plot intricacies to wade through, no Easter eggs adorning the background. This is not an exercise in storytelling but a stalwart recreation of Maoz’s brief time as a trigger man on an Israeli tank crew during the 1982 Lebanon War. As one of several Israeli films in the last few years to deal with the emotional fallout affected the men who served in the 1982 war (Ari Folman’s lauded Waltz With Bashir leading the pack), Lebanon is a strong entry but effectively goes beyond cultural limitations. I would argue that it is an allegory dressed up as a funereal war film, but maybe that’s so key. The importance of Lebanon lies in experiencing and responding to the film, and in that regard it comes highly recommended.

Gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat) is having a tough time pushing the trigger. And why not? Watching the world outside through the gun sights of a stale, hot creaking tank is taking a quick toll on the young man. Along for the ride are Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), Yigal (Michael Moshonov) and Asi (Itay Tiran), the tank commander whose orders will soon be up for debate. Brought in to clear the area for the grunts who will then sweep through it, the tank is not a fine instrument of destruction and a careless shot can cause serious collateral damage.

If you’re still with me, here’s the secret to Lebanon - the whole film, outside of the first and last shot (powerful images that speak volumes but need the rest of the film to make an impression outside of the perfunctory contrast), takes place inside of the tank. When we look outside, we do so through the sights of a trigger. It is supremely unnerving and involving. The human drama, in the end, is only mildly compelling. The four men are all capable actors and no one rises above or pulls the cast down as a weak link - it’s just not very interesting to watch soldiers bicker about where to piss and what to eat when the tank’s sounds and sights enrapture and often horrify.

Luckily, Samuel Maoz is more dedicated to realizing a reconstruction of his experience on the field of battle. The tank, which is often thought of as an impenetrable behemoth that rolls through clearing the field and desecrating the bad guys holed up all around, is here a death trap. It is an odd comparison, but I imagined a fishbowl on a stove top, rising heat and a ponderous feeling of whether the glass will buckle and splinter into a thousand pieces. Now imagine four fish in the water, unable to make their getaway and forced to have an acute awareness of their fast-approaching mortality.

That Lebanon sustains tension in such a small space for the duration of its running time is something to ponder and celebrate - such is the power and pull of filmmaking and Maoz is wise enough to stick to his concept and see it through. The trigger man and his crew sit tight, confused and stressed out and what they do see through the eye of the periscope is often searing and horrifying. We can look away and they can’t and the whole damn allegory falls into place again. The tank crew is permanently at war - they’re a huge target and unlike the jarheads around them, there are no smoke breaks, no idle chatter. Everything is undercut by the impassivity of battle.

DVD Bonus Features

It’s not much, but “Notes On A War Film” packs a lot of information in a relatively short running time (just under 25 minutes). A great example of a featurette that doesn’t pander to the behind the scenes glitter but actually delves into and delivers an insider’s look.

"Lebanon" is on sale January 18, 2011 and is rated R. Thriller, War. Written and directed by Samuel Maoz. Starring Itay Tiran, Michael Moshonov, Oshri Cohen, Yoav Donat.

Jan
20
2011
Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.

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