Reymonde Amsalem in “Lebanon” [2009 Israel, France, Germany]

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Israeli director Samuel Moz used his personal experiences as soldier during the First Lebanon War to make the drama “Lebanon”, a Franco-German-Israeli co-production. For a feature-film debut, this wasn’t a bad effort at all, quite commendable as a matter of fact, and it deservedly won accolades at the Venice Film Festival that year. An honest attempt at portraying the general nastiness of war, it stops short of passing any judgement as to whether war is good, bad, or even a necessary evil.

It’s the first day of war, and a solitary tank along with a small company of troops are despatched to ‘clean up’ a town already laid waste from an air raid. It is supposedly a walk in the park, but the tank crew have very little experience, particularly gunner Shmulik who has never fired in combat before, and is initiated into warfare in the most brutal way possible by facing up to his moral and ethical compulsions. Unfortunately for the greenhorn tank crew, things doesn’t go according to plan, and they end up in hostile territory with no means of support, pray a couple of shady phalanges (Lebanese Christian rebels) to usher them to safety. Barring a couple of scenes, the entire film is shot from inside a tank, trying to give us a first-hand account of what it is like to man that cold and anonymous war machine with a seemingly indestructible exterior. “It’s the man that’s made of steel. The tank is only a piece of Iron”, says a slogan in the tank cabin, which pretty much sums up what the story is trying to convey. The claustrophobic atmosphere and a series of unfortunate events strain crew discipline to the limit – will they ‘steel’ themselves to survive the ordeal, because if they don’t, they are in danger of collapsing from within…

Technically the film is quite competent, and I especially liked the sound design that adds to the dramatic impact, whether it is the clanking of metals or the eerie robotic noise while manoeuvring the viewfinder. While some have slammed its lack of attention to detail, and questionable credibility, I don’t think it really matters because the point of the film is not to relate historical events or tell a story surrounding its protagonists. It is to portray one of the dimensions of conflict – the ethical, and that it does admirably no matter what other people may think or nitpick over. This dimension should be experienced by everyone, and it is for that reason that this film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

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