Samuel Maoz’s masterful exploration of the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon is a hard film to explain, just like its’ spiritual predecessor ‘Das Boot’. The plot synopsis is easy enough to recite: The First Lebanon War – June, 1982. A lone tank is dispatched to search a hostile town that has already been bombarded by the Israel Air Force. What seems to be a simple mission gets gradually out of control and turns into a death trap, a shivering nightmare.
However the real genius of the film lies behind how Maoz explores this nightmare that the four boys find themselves in: by trapping you in the tank with them. Just like ‘Das Boot’ was a claustrophobic and tense exploration of life and war in a submarine, ‘Lebanon’ uses the same method to explore uncertainty and paranoia through the cramped interior of a tank.
The four boys who make up the crew of the tank can only see through their gun sights – the entire world around them comes across as hostile, uncertain and at times extremely frightening.
It’s no surprise to know that Maoz based the film around his own personal experiences in the war – the raw, unflinching gaze and the very highly-charged emotional depth of the story suggest it cannot be anything other than personal. The authenticity of the film is closer to the previous generation of war films as opposed to the slam-bang action orientated offerings today.
The film also shares great similarities with ‘Beaufort’ – an offering from 2007 with similar attitudes. Just like in ‘Beaufort’ , ‘Lebanon’ features a young commander who veers between using his authority and slowly realising the reality of the situation around him.
If there’s any criticism, then perhaps it’s the relentlessness of the film which can put some viewers off. Clocking in at a remarkably short 93 minutes (especially in this 140 minutes of epic film days) ‘Lebanon’ is a grim and demanding ride from the get-go. Maoz does not waste any time in capturing and confining the viewer in the tank and as each inevitable event leads to more and more desperate actions, the horror of the war is more and more clearly exposed.
Although there might be some out there who will express preference for last year’s ‘Waltz With Bashir’ over this, for this reviewer ‘Lebanon’ might be the finest exploration of war since Elem Klimov’s ‘Come and See’.Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.