Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lebanon (2009 film)

Written and directed by Samuel Moaz, Lebanon is the story of a young Israeli soldier who is part of a tank crew as he is in the middle of a battle during the Lebanon conflict in 1982. Told from the perspective of the men inside a tank, it is a film where men allow themselves to be caught up in the chaos of battle. Starring Oshri Cohen, Zohar Shtrauss, Michael Moshonov, Yoav Donat, and Itay Tiran. Lebanon is an intense yet harrowing film from Samuel Moaz.

It’s the first day of the Lebanese-Israeli war as Shmulik (Yoav Donat) is the new gunner for a tank crew on their way to a town. Led by their commander Assi (Itay Tiran) along with driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov) and cannon loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen). The crew is given orders by their superior Jamil (Zohar Shtrauss) about what to do as they’re to go into town and fight off whatever forces and reach San Tropez. During an encounter with a car as they’re accompanied by soldiers, Shmulik panics leading to something bad happening as Assi is in trouble. With Smulik being blamed as he is nervous along with everyone else, they continue towards town.

During an encounter with hostile soldiers with hostages, things intensify as the crew are dealing with the heat inside the tank as well as failing equipment. The chaos of battle leads to the tank being hit by a rocket as things begin to leak inside. With Jamil trying to get them back on track, a Syrian POW (Dudu Tassa) is taken inside the tank as a prisoner as he’s later verbally abused by a Phalangist (Ashraf Barhom). With the tank having trouble working as Assi starts to lose control, Hertzel takes over as he tries to figure out what’s happening. With Jamil stuck in town as they’re lost, it’s up to Yigal, Shmulik, and Hertzel to find a way to safety.

What happens when the first day on the job is to be a gunner on the first day of war? Well, it’s one hell of a day for a guy who has to start his day on the first day of war. Even as he has to deal with all sorts of things as being in combat is different from everything he encountered in training. At the same time, he is forced to be in a small space with three other men who are just as nervous as he is. One of them is a commander that is trying to maintain control though it seems he has no idea what to do for parts of the film. Then there’s the superior who goes in and out of the tank trying to maintain order inside but outside, he’s having a hard time.

Samuel Boaz’s script is very loose as the film spends almost entirely inside the tank. The tank itself is a mess filled with liquids on the floor, a little box for everyone to piss in, it’s hot with not much room to breath in, and there’s these four different men. Boaz’s direction is truly astonishing in the way he chooses to tell the story as the film rarely has a shot of the tank from the outside. Instead, Boaz lets the audience be part of the tank crew as they’re inside watching everything that is happening. Some of it is from Shmulik’s perspective as he watches everything on a telescope. There, he sees the chaos and things that are happening.

The film also has this sense of claustrophobia as the four men are inside a very small space as they can barely move around inside. Boaz makes sure that the audience can feel the stench of the tank as it’s falling apart following a rocket blast. The sense of fear is really evident where there’s this other man who is the enemy that is losing control. All this POW wants is to take a piss with these four Israeli men not really sure what he’s saying. The chaos of the film is what makes it so engaging as Boaz creates was truly a tough yet powerful film.

Cinematographer Giora Bejach does an excellent job with the photography by keeping things low key in the lighting as the film spends a lot of time inside the tank while a lot of the shots from outside is presented in a realistic fashion. Editor Arik Leibovitch does a great job with the editing in creating rhythmic cuts to capture the reactions of the characters as well as their situations with jump-cuts and cut-to-black cuts to intensify the sense of fear.

Production designer Ariel Roshko does an amazing job with the look of the tank as Roshko brings life to a tank that is falling apart to help create the sense of claustrophobia throughout the film. Costume designers Hila Bargiel and Laura Sheim do a good job with the ragged look of the soldiers clothes and the infantry clothes the other men wear. Sound designer Alex Claude does a phenomenal job with the sound work to capture the sound of gun shots, screams, and everything that goes in battle. Claude along with David Liss create a score that is very sparse with just a simple bass line and keyboards to set the mood for the film.

The casting by Hila Yuval is brilliant for the cast that is assembled that includes some memorable small performances from Reymond Amsalem as a woman caught in the middle of a battle field, Dudu Tassa as a Syrian POW who is chained inside the tank, and Ashraf Barhom as a charming but creepy Phalangist soldier. Zohar Shtrauss is excellent as Jamil, an Israeli force superior who goes in and out of the tank to keep things in track as he spouts an intimidating presence while being more human outside of the tank. Michael Moshonov is very good as Yigal, a young tank driver who hopes to return home to see his mother as he endure high-emotions when he’s trying to get the tank to work.

Itay Tiran is superb as Assi, a tank commander trying to get things under wraps only to lose control as he often trades barbs with his fellow crew members realizing he has no idea what to do. Oshri Cohen is great as Hertzel, a loader who often spars with Assi as he is the character that seems to be the most reasonable when things get tense. Finally, there’s Yoav Donat in a phenomenal performance as Shmulik. Donat’s performance is mesmerizing as he is the new guy on the job and trying to keep himself together while being very scared of everything around him and inside the tank as it’s a very real yet intense performance.

Lebanon is a spectacular yet chilling film from Samuel Boaz that features an amazing cast of actors. The film makes a great companion piece to Ari Folman’s 2008 animated-documentary Waltz with Bashir in terms of the fact that both films are about the 1982 Lebanon-Israel conflict. Fans of war films will definitely see this as something very different thought my feel a little irked over the fact that it’s set almost entirely inside a tank. In the end, Lebanon is a superb war drama from Samuel Boaz.

© thevoid99 2011


Castor said...

I saw this a month ago and although it's a pretty solid film, I felt it was too stagnant, mostly due to being in one location the entire time with almost no view of the outside world.

thevoid99 said...

That's what I liked about it though. It felt like you were part of the crew and inside that tank. It worked for me.