×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Lebanon

Visceral, torn-from-the-memory filmmaking that packs every punch except one to the heart.

With:
With: Yoav Donat, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Strauss, Dudu Tasa, Ashraf Barhom, Reymonde Amsellem. (Hebrew, English, Arabic dialogue)

Visceral, torn-from-the-memory filmmaking that packs every punch except one to the heart, “Lebanon” is the boldest and best of the recent mini-wave of Israeli pics (“Beaufort,” “Waltz With Bashir”) set during conflicts between the two countries. Ironically, writer-director Samuel Maoz’s pic, 99.9% of which is set within an Israeli tank, actually has the least to do with Lebanon per se. The story could be set in any tank, any country, any war — a cinematic Kammerspiel that’s as much a formal challenge for its creator as it is a claustrophobic experience for audiences. With fest kudos, arthouse chances look solid.

The only thing “Lebanon” (set on the first day of the 1982 invasion) and “Bashir” (set three months later) have in common is that both films were directed by actual participants, who’ve carried the emotional scars to this day. But where “Bashir” helmer Ari Folman extrapolated his experiences into an elaborate structure and animated format, Moaz compresses his own memories into a compact, “Huis Clos”-like drama set over 24 hours in a single location.

The whole film has only three exterior shots, the first of which is of a vast field of droopy sunflowers slightly animated by time-lapse lensing. The viewer is then plunged into the bowels of a lone Israeli tank, at 3 a.m. on the morning of June 6, 1982, as its regular team of three — cool commander Assi (Itay Tiran), motormouth loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen) and nervous driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov) — are joined by new gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat). All are only in their 20s.

The you-are-there experience commences almost immediately, as the tank trundles across the border and plows through a banana plantation. The outside world is seen only through Shmulik’s viewfinder and heard only through the tank’s armor plating. When the hatch is occasionally opened, light and sound flood the cramped compartment, but nothing else is seen.

Though the pic is shot in 1.85 and not widescreen, and doesn’t have an elaborate soundtrack, sound designer Alex Claude (“Beaufort”) and his team do a remarkable job on an evidently low budget, from sloshing water and oil inside the tank to deafening setpieces, such as the sudden shock of coming under heavy fire. A subtly supportive score by Nicolas Becker, which includes almost subliminary sounds on “organic instruments,” is a further smart component.

Giora Bejach’s lensing, combining 16mm, DV and Red One material into a 35mm print, has a kind of dank beauty in its pools of light cast by a control panel or stray shafts from outside. As the main protags’ faces are progressively caked in dirt and sweat, it’s sometimes difficult to make out who’s talking, but unlike in many other grunt movies, names are helpfully used at frequent intervals.

After they’ve been briefed by hardass commander Jamil (Zohar Strauss), who lowers himself inside the tank for a chat, the four soon get their first taste of the slow chill of fear. Not for the last time, the tank quartet is temporarily joined by a wounded soldier, putting extra pressure on the protags’ relationships, especially between the combative Hertzel and calmer Assi. As the soldiers enter an already bombed city, with orders to clean it of PLO resistance fighters, they find themselves trapped when the tank is incapacitated and they’re surrounded by (unseen) Syrian troops.

Pic recalls many other war dramas set in confined spaces — from Andrzej Wajda’s ’50s classic, “Kanal,” set in the Warsaw sewers, to Zheng Junzhao’s 1983 “One and the Eight,” set in a pit prison — with the same blackened, sweat-smeared faces and sense of living incarceration.

With frequent developments outside and visits by Jamil and others, Maoz technically pulls off the feat of keeping the viewer involved during 90 minutes set in a single, cramped location. But he’s less successful at forging any emotional bond: Part of the price of deliberately withholding their backstories — to make them anonymous soldiers — is that their survival becomes purely a matter of abstract interest.

Whenever the strongly etched and played Jamil is onscreen, or when a crazed Phalangist (Ashraf Barhom) threatens a Syrian hostage (Dudu Tasa) in a disturbing display of psychosis, the dramatic weaknesses of the four main protags are thrown into relief. Performances are OK, but the dialogue is largely functional, and their characters are neither likable nor especially interesting.

It’s not a crucial flaw, but it does prevent “Lebanon” from having the emotional clout that would have turned it from a very good dramatic experiment into a great one.

Popular on Variety

Lebanon

Israel-France-Germany

Production: A United King Films presentation of a Metro Communications, Paralite Films (Israel)/Arsam Intl., Arte France (France)/Ariel Films (Germany) presentation of a Metro Communications, Paralite Prods. production, in association with Israel Film Fund. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, Einat Bikel, Uri Sabag, David Silber, Benjamina Mirnik, Ilann Girard. Executive producer, Gil Sassover. Directed, written by Samuel Maoz.

Crew: Camera (color, 16mm/HD-to-35mm), Giora Bejach; editor, Arik Lahav-Leibovici; music, Nicolas Becker; production designer, Ariel Roshko; costume designer, Hila Bargiel; sound (Dolby Digital), David Liss, Tobias Fleig, Jan Petzold; sound designer, Alex Claude; assistant directors, Avichai Henig, Shir Shoshani; special effects, Pini Klavir, stunt coordinator, Dima Osmolovski; casting, Hila Yuval. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 7, 2009. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Visions; New York Film Festival.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Yoav Donat, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Strauss, Dudu Tasa, Ashraf Barhom, Reymonde Amsellem. (Hebrew, English, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

  • ALACARTE_HOME

    Brazil’s Pandora Filmes Readies Country’s First Classic Film Streaming Platform

    Brazilian distribution company Pandora Filmes was founded by André Sturm in 1989 as the country’s first independent distributor of foreign and domestic, classic and contemporary arthouse cinema. Still pushing the envelope three decades later, Juliana Brito is representing the company at this year’s Lumiere Festival, looking for classic film titles to fill out the catalog [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content