Friday, September 17, 2010
Most of “Lebanon,” set during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, takes place in a dank, dirty tank occupied by four soldiers: Shmulik, the gunner; Yigal, the driver; Hertzel, the intermittently cooperative soldier, and Assi, the superior officer. The tank both protects and imprisons the soldiers, as it has a constricting effect on the audience. This autobiographical film, directed by Samuel Maoz, who was in a tank during the war, is claustrophobic, harrowing and remarkable.
The ultimate aims of the conflict are beside the point; the focus is on trying to survive and maintain one’s sanity. At one point, Shmulik freezes when he should have fired, with disastrous results; at another, Assi is clearly cracking up. Much of the action is shot from the cross hairs of the scope as it mechanically surveys the carnage of soldiers, civilians and animals caught in the crossfire. The radio is often difficult to understand; the men at one point lose their geographical bearings; the tank is unreliable. Visitors to the tank afford no relief: a dead soldier; a Syrian prisoner; a Christian Phalangist ally who yearns to get his hands on the prisoner; an officer named Jamil, who tries to impose a sense of order on a chaotic situation.
Nothing is resolved, and perhaps that is reflective of a war that became more controversial within Israel itself the longer it lasted. Like the outstanding animated Israeli film "Waltz With Bashir," “Lebanon” goes as far as possible in presenting the anxiety, brutality and absurdity of war, especially from the perspective of young soldiers.