DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Lebanon

Friday 25 March 2011


Lebanon (2009) dir. Samuel Maoz
Starring: Itay Tiran, Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Shtrauss


By Alan Bacchus

The surprise Venice Golden Lion winner of 2009 is an intense adventure using the same subject matter as Waltz with Bashir—another Israeli take on the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This time we’re put into a tank with four Israeli soldiers. There’s Assi the commander, Shmulik the gunner, Yigal the driver and Hertzel the loquacious loader. Being friends as well as comrades means that Assi often has difficulty asserting his orders to the group, specifically with Hertzel, who questions the logic of the chain of command and the hierarchy of duties. It makes for light, humorous banter, dulling us to the horror going on outside the tank.

But when Major Jamil enters the tank, orders get thrown down with authority. With clarity, Jamil makes it simple—proceed through the recently demolished village, look for surviving enemy soldiers and contain any lingering threats. We’re told it’s a walk in the park until they get to their next destination, an impending battle in San Tropez.

The tank has two points of view, a wide angle pigeonhole target sight of the gun and a closer zoomed in view from the same angle. From these two shots we watch as Shmulik slowly goes stir crazy due to the brutality he’s forced to watch happening on the outside. A family being shot to death in a vacant building, an innocent Muslim blown apart in his car and even a cow clinging to life with his stomach torn open are indelible images to both Shmulik and the audience.

For the others, the intensity increases because of the earth-quaking caused by the explosions and the devastating sounds of war echoing through the steel machine. Like the metallic claustrophobia of the German sub in Das Boot, the confines of the metal tank serves as the film’s only location. The space is tight and perhaps Maoz used Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat as inspiration to maintain a dynamic and non-repetitive visual experience in such a small place. But it's important to note this film was made before the rash of single location thrillers of 2010 (i.e., 127 Hours, Frozen, Buried, etc.)

The few sources of light create enough creative light schemes to play with. And the occasional time when the hatch is opened up, a blinding beam of light is sent into the tank, which is enough to remind us that there is another world outside.

Admirable as it is, in creating an intense war film without really seeing anything, the film suffers from our uncertainty about whether the filmmakers are actually taking a stand on something. War is bad, we know. Perhaps it’s the singular point of view of the tank as a metaphor for the unwavering party line of the Israeli military. Maybe. It’s an implied theme, which we have to stretch to find, but it lacks the passionate confessional tone of Waltz with Bashir. And so it fails to raise itself to the cinematic level of brilliance the concept and the era in history demands.

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