Rated R, 94 min. Directed by Samuel Maoz. Starring Yoav Donat, Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Itay Tiran, Zohar Shtrauss.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 24, 2010
The brutally real-feeling Lebanon, which won the Golden Lion for best film at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, swings the pendulum far wide of the hyperpoeticism of Waltz With Bashir, a fellow Israeli film that examined, in flashback and with narration, the first Lebanon war in 1982. There is no editorial distance here (although writer/director Maoz has said that his own experiences in the Israel Defense Forces informed the film). Maoz sets Lebanon on the first day of the invasion and confines the action almost exclusively to the inside of an armored tank. Four soldiers sit like sardines and wait for orders: Assi (Tiran), the self-doubting commander; the mutinous artillery loader Herzel (Cohen); Yigal (Moshonov), the peace-making driver; and gunner Shmulik (Donat), a new conscript who, up until now, has only shot at barrels. They are a combustible mix, and the actors, aided by the nimble cinematographer Giora Bejach, ably convey the griminess and gaspingness of their quarters. Upping the claustrophobia, Maoz restricts the audience's sight line to mimic the soldiers' same blind spots. What we see of the outside world – the dead bodies and bombed-out villages, soldiers taking a roadside leak, and firefights that ignite without warning – is filtered entirely through the gunner's periscope (its constant cricking and whirring is an indispensable part of the sound design). The scoped camerawork is a shrewd tactic; only occasionally does its flat, proscenium effect make the action feel overly staged.