Saturday, August 21, 2010

Movie with Abe: Lebanon

Directed by Samuel Maoz
Released August 6, 2010

It’s never easy to put war on screen. There’s always a risk of getting it wrong, over-sentimentalizing the situation, or just not doing the soldiers and the conflict justice. Recent war movies from the United States like “The Dry Land” and “The Hurt Locker” have spotlighted the difficult journey home that soldiers make. Recent Israeli movies have chronicled a more current mission in Lebanon in “Beaufort” and an animated look back at the first Lebanon war in 1982 in the excellent “Waltz with Bashir.” Now, the first feature film from director Samuel Maoz takes place entirely inside a tank as a group of young soldiers makes its way into Lebanon in 1982.

The confines of the tank make for a very claustrophobic, powerful experience where escape from the reality of the situation is impossible. That setup is particularly effective not only at underlining the gravity and uncertainty of war but also of showing just how young these soldiers are. The commander in the tank gets no respect from a fellow soldier who insists on subverting his orders because he refuses to acknowledge him as a superior. A higher-ranking officer enters the tank sporadically to check in and bark orders at the clueless and scared young soldiers who have no idea what’s coming next.

“Lebanon” does a magnificent job of capturing the spirit and energy of these four soldiers marooned inside a tank. Frequent shots of one soldier’s eye opening wide as he looks frantically through the lens of his target are enormously effective at capturing the uncertainty of the situation, and green-coated pictures of the outside world with a bull’s-eye marking the center offer a confusing picture of events on the outside, hopelessly out of the control of the soldiers on the inside.

Most mesmerizing of all is the male camaraderie and manner of conduct that goes on within the confines of the tank. After a particularly harrowing moment, one soldier recalls a juvenile experience with a female teacher that serves as a fleeting but momentous distraction for both the soldiers and audiences of the film. Like all war movies, the imagery is graphic and disturbing, and much of it is difficult to stomach. Yet ultimately it’s a rewarding experience that digs deep into the souls of these soldiers through their interactions with each other, their commander, a Christian Arab ally, a Syrian prisoner, and the faceless enemy seen shooting at their tank. “Lebanon” is a thoughtful, contemplative war movie that wisely chooses to spotlight its soldiers rather than the greater conflict, creating what should be a universally relatable narrative.


No comments: