The gripping war movie Lebanon is unpopular with some groups in Israel because, according to a news report, “the film will deter young men from volunteering for the [Israeli] army.” I don’t entirely buy that argument.
Does Lebanon emphasize the horrors of war? Yes, indeed. As you might expect from any war film, there are graphic scenes of violence, gore, and sheer terror. Does Lebanon also glamorize war? I’m certain that it does — at least for some members of the audience.
I feel confident that many young men will identify with at least one of the film’s four main characters, young Israelis confined in a hellish tank at the onset of the 1982 conflict in Lebanon. This kind of viewer-identification is nothing new; audiences sided with Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker when Bonnie and Clyde was in theaters. And I’m guessing that more than one Nightmare on Elm Street fan would enjoy being in Freddy Krueger’s blood-stained shoes. Some young men who watch Lebanon will be repelled by what they see; others will leave the movie and seek out an enlistment officer.
For me (an old man), the most compelling reason to see Lebanon is its stunning photography. Director Samuel Maoz, who wrote the script based on his own experience as a gunner in the 1982 battle, also has a background in art direction and photography — and man, does it show. Shot almost entirely within the confines of a leaking, creaking tank, Maoz’s visuals are a luminescent feast, with green and gold patinas casting an eerie glow onto a drop of sweat falling off a soldier’s chin, or a crushed cigarette floating in a pool of oil.
You might think that a 93-minute movie restricted to the inside of a tank is about 90 minutes too much, but you’d be mistaken. We feel the men’s claustrophobia, but there is also suspense because we see what they see: kaleidoscopic snapshots of chaos on the dangerous streets outside of their metal cocoon, all viewed through the lens of a rotating gunsight.
Some people will likely experience Lebanon as a big-screen videogame: cool-looking, violent, and with clearly defined good guys and bad guys. Others will see it as a harrowing anti-war statement. Some people will see it as pro-military; some will see it as anti-army. That’s just the way we are. Grade: B+
Director: Samuel Maoz Cast: Yoav Donat, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Shtrauss, Dudu Tassa, Ashraf Barhom, Fares Hananya, Reymond Amsalem Release: 2010
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