Starring: Italy Tiran, Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov
Directed by: Samuel Maoz (debut)
Written by: Samuel Maoz (debut)
Winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, the Israeli war film “Lebanon” is a harrowing and unremorsefully intense drama centered on four Israeli soldiers manning a tank across hostile battlefields during the first day of the Lebanon War in 1982.
As we spend a majority of the picture inside the tank (nicknamed the Crown Cinderella), we watch the four soldiers – gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat), commander Assi (Itay Tiran), loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), and driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov) – rumbling north through Lebanon alongside a team of paratroopers who are clearning out anything that hasn’t been destroyed by the Israeli Air Force. Their final destination is an area known as San Tropez where they will reconvene with their forces and avoid enemy fire.
Confined in the small, filthy hull, the men’s mental health begins to slowly deteriorate. The only window to the cruel outside world is through Shmulik’s scope where he bears witness to all the inhumanities of war.
First-time director Samuel Maoz, who was also an Israeli soldier almost 30 years ago, uses the claustrophobic setting to build tension among the men as they contemplate what it is they’re doing for their country. Their distinct personalities reveal the depths of the turmoil they face during the bloody battle . It’s not nearly as politically motivated as Ari Folman’s 2008 animated film “Waltz with Bashir” (also a first-person account of the Lebanon War), but that’s far from a negative criticism. “Lebanon” has a different motive and makes a powerful statement without picking sides.
Beyond the crosshairs there is a devastating narrative realized by the men who are causing the destruction. Through detailed close ups, eerie silences and gripping mechanical sounds from the tank, “Lebanon” is an aesthetic and poetic combat piece that places us in the confines of the most nightmarish of scenarios.
There are plenty of movies that provide enough war-is-hell moments, but “Lebanon” is one of the few that actually lets you see for yourself. From that vantage point, it becomes warfare at it’s most tormenting.