Director: Samuel Maoz
Screenplay: Samuel Maoz
Producers: Anat Bikel, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery, Ilann Girard, Benjamina Mirnik, Uri Sabag, David Silber
Starring: Reymond Amsalem, Oshri Cohen, Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Shtrauss, Itay Tiran
Country: Israel, France, Lebanon & Germany
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 89 min
Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice back in 2009, Lebanon has finally made it’s way to British shores, with a limited theatrical release and a DVD and Blu Ray now available. A popular film on the festival circuit I was quite excited about watching this and for the most part the film lived up to the hype, but I did have a fair few problems with it.
Based on the actual experiences of writer and director Samuel Maoz in the first Lebanon war in 1982, Lebanon often gets compared to Das Boot for an obvious reason; the film almost solely takes place inside a tank, creating a claustrophobic film that focuses on the individuals trapped in the middle of a hellish war zone. Here the characters are four young and inexperienced soldiers whose main job is to keep their tank moving from A to B depending on the orders they are given but not allowed to question. The tank’s gunner, Yigal (Michael Moshonov) faces some brutal moral dilemmas as his trigger finger stands between life and death for the soldiers, revolutionaries and civilians outside. All of these activities beyond the walls of the tank are seen only through the turret of the tank, with it’s crosshair providing a chilling frame to everything we see.
The film’s single location concept works very well providing a constantly tense atmosphere and the set design elevates things, with the tank’s walls constantly dripping with grease and occasional smoke jets cutting through the thick atmosphere. It feels like they’re in some sort of living, breathing creature and it’s shot very dark, tight and close, thrusting the audience into the bowels of the beast themselves. The final ‘set-piece’ is particularly effective, with little to see outside of the turret, leaving the viewers to create the carnage outside as we hear bullets peppering the metal shell and see the crew just power forward shuddering and bouncing through whatever walls and bodies they are tearing through.
However, as effective as the handling of life inside the tank is, I was much less enamoured with the handling of things outside. Many will feel I’m nitpicking, but I really disliked the way they shot the ‘through the turret’ sequences. I loved the idea that we could only see what they see, but for me the filmmakers ruined this concept by filming it far too cinematically. The turret would always land on neatly framed set-ups and then zoom in for unnecessary close ups which just brought me right out of the ‘through their eyes’ experience. This technique also added to my second major problem with the film and that’s it’s lack of subtlety. A bad example of this is when the turret moves down to look at a dying horse in the street whilst the crew is in the middle of a potentially dangerous situation. Buy Nolvadex Online Pharmacy No Prescription Needed Seeing something like that in shot doesn’t bother me, but when it pans down, lingers on it, then goes for a couple of close ups of it’s twitching face is just too much, slapping the audience in the face with it’s ‘war is hell’ message. This bluntness is prevalent throughout the first half of the film with one standoff in town bordering on comedic it’s so over the top. Some terrorists take a woman hostage and the gunner doesn’t want to shoot in case he hits the woman, then a child appears, then an old man in a wheelchair, bringing to mind Naked Gun rather than Full Metal Jacket. Then to add insult to injury this whole scene is given a background of a painting of the Virgin Mary, complete with big close ups of it before and after the shootout.
Luckily the second half of the film makes up for it, with some more restrained and powerful sequences as well as a standout monologue about using sex as an outlet for grief. So overall the film feels as uneven and clunky as the tank itself it times, but has enough quality and intensity there for it to remain a memorable and worthwhile experience.
Lebanon is released on 23rd August by Metrodome on DVD and Blu-Ray. Features include a text history of the First Lebanese War as well as brief text interviews with the cast and crew. These are both quite interesting even if it’s basically presented. More impressive is the audio commentary. I haven’t listened all the way through, but what I heard was very informative, both from a filmmaking perspective and in terms of hearing more about the real life experiences of the director. His voice is very slow and deep so it’s not the most exciting of commentaries, but the fact that the film was so personal to him makes it a rewarding addition. There’s also a feature which allows you to download a digital copy of the film which is handy.
Reviewed by David Brook