They say all politics is local, and the same can be said of war. The film Lebanon, set during the 1982 Lebanon war, adopts this ground-up perspective of combat. In the film, it doesn't matter how the war started, whose cause is just, or what the strategies are for victory. All that matters is one crew of soldiers in one tank during one day of battle.
Lebanon is structured like a one-set play. All of the action takes place inside an Israeli tank as it ventures into foreign territory. The crew (played by Yoav Donat, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, and Michael Moshonov) carries the film not with action but reactions to stressful external events: a devolution of emotional states and fractured camaraderie.
A gun sight keeps the audience apprised of what's happening outside (or, in other ways, emphasizes the confusion of battle). As the gunman Shmulik (Donat) peers out, the film becomes something of a travelogue, with vignettes chronicling the hell of war.
Lebanon trades in some of the most time-tested universals of war (and war films): kids suddenly making life-and-death decisions, mistakes with irrevocable consequences, soldiers sharing stories of home, terror, boredom, civilians' lives destroyed.
But the film is also unique to its setting: the claustrophobia and squalid mess of the tank interior — its urine-puddled floor; fallen soldiers (called "angels") inside the tank and captured Syrian combatants ("crickets"); the Christian Arab allies ("Philangists") who have their own objectives — complicating the chain of command and ramping up the anxiety for the tank crew, who just want to get back home in one piece.
The film is written and directed by Samuel Maoz, who himself served in an Israeli tank during the war and used those experiences to make Lebanon.
Lebanon won the Golden Lion (best film) at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.
The animated Waltz With Bashir got lots of attention recently and is about the same conflict from an Israeli perspective. Lebanon deserves similar notice.
Opening Friday, October 1st