TIFF 09: LEBANON Review

Aiming to do what Das Boot did in capturing WWII from the point of view from the confines of a submarine, Samuel Maoz's debut feature film, which recently captured the Golden Lion at Venice, aims to view the opening days of the 1982 Lebanese-Israeli war from the cramped interior of a tank.  To amp up the visceral aspect of the film, things never leave the tank and all outside action is viewed through the scopes and viewports of the iron beast.  The exception to this is a handsome opening shot of drooping Sunflowers in an open, sunny field; stark contrast to crucible of sweat, fear and metal that this location will prove to be.

The crew consist of the commanding officer, the driver, the shooter an the shell-loader.  They are more like a casual construction crew than a soldiering outfit, mainly just driving around and positioning their intimidating hardware.  But when the war begins and they have to begin shelling cars, buildings and people, there is confusion, insubordiation and mainly pure unvarnished fear.  The slogan on the inside of the tank may read "Man is Steel, the Tank is only Iron."  But these men are far from it.  Amist the barking radio orders (and occasional visits at the hatch) of the mission officer, these men hesitate and agonize. 

Maoz based his screenplay on his own fears and reactions to the initial days of the war, and uses the tank as a big blunt metaphor for situation.  Awkward, clumsey, operating without working dials, traumatized from shells an rockets aimed at it, yet continuing to lumber on through the wreckage.  Nearly everything seen outside, from soldiers (Israeli friendlies and PLO terrorists) and vehicles, to innocents and apartment buildings are viewed with a gigantic crosshair in the frame.  Inside the tank is inside these young soldiers head, slow to respond to the chain of command and occasionally bursting with anger and rage at the situation.   The shooter, Yigal, becomes the primary character, as the most difficult thing to do is pull the trigger, his is the all seeing eye that gets a close up and accurate view of the immediate chaos and carnate of urban battle. 

The film does not achieve the scope or grand scale of Das Boot, rather being a very intimate and small and focused.  It is surpisingly accessible in terms of image and underlying meaning, to the point where it is quite surprising that it won the big prize at Venice, it nonetheless is an intense and visceral experience.  It gets beyond its 'gimmick' only through the quality of the actors (a story of sexual release as a balm for grief is a standout monologue) and offers as close of a 'ride' as anyone is going to get in a tank (or in the mind) in engagement.
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