Review by Jack Foley
THE best war movies amaze, inform and disgust in equal measure. Think of the opening D-Day scenes of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (technically brilliant, emotionally devastating), or the pressure cooker tension of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.
Samuel Moaz’s Lebanon deserves to take its place among those classics as another breathtaking example of the horror of conflict.
Set during the opening 24 hours of the first Lebanon war in 1982, and inspired by the director’s own horrific experiences and guilt, the film follows a lone tank crew comprised of four new recruits and headed up by a similarly fresh gunner (Yoav Donat).
When they take a wrong turn and end up in a remot hostile town with little support, they come to realise the dangers involved in modern combat and the surprise vulnerability they feel within the claustrophobic confines of their steel beast.
Like Wolfgang Petersen’s similarly acclaimed sub drama Das Boot, Lebanon takes place almost solely within the confines of the Israeli tank.
Views of the outside world are only really offered via what the men inside can see from within, yet appear no less harrowing as a result.
An order to bomb a tenement housing snipers as well as innocent families gives rise to one particularly horrifying scene, in which a screaming, naked mother is moved to plead for the crew’s mercy. It simply, almost coldly, shows the human cost of war… and leaves it mark on the crew.
But equally, the ethics, morals and confusion of life as a foot-soldier, or tank crew, are scrutinised, so that no decision becomes straightforward or a simple case of right and wrong.
The taking of a prisoner and whether he should be handed over for brutal torture and almost certain execution also comes into play, as does the validity of the mission itself.
Maoz is basically taking us through his own experiences, exorcising his own demons and asking questions of his audience that are similar to those posed by Ari Folman’s equally astonishing Waltz With Bashir.
In doing so, he attempts to show the terror and insecurity of the modern soldier… stripping away the brash heroics and staunch patriotism of countless, lesser war movies in the process.
This is hard-hitting, draining stuff that’s guaranteed to leave an imprint upon your brain.
But equally, it’s a film that should not be missed, for this is a breathtaking feature debut that heralds the arrival of a significant new talent. It’s also one of the films of the year.
In Israeli, with subtitles
Running time: 93mins
UK DVD Release: August 23, 2010