Whenever you come across a film that has won a “Golden Lion” at the Venice Film Festival, you tend to watch these films with the highest of expectations.
To tell you the truth, I was not too sure of what to expect of “Lebanon”. In 2008, we had a taste of war cinema taking place during the Lebanon War with “Waltz with Bashir” giving us a perspective of unity, brotherhood and the glory of the battle for the Israeli Defense Force but also the massacre by the Phalangists and to show that there is nothing beautiful or good about war.
In “Lebanon”, we get a different perspective of the war as writer/director Samuel Maoz uses his own personal experience as a tank gunner and shows us the perspective of war for for young soldiers who really don’t grasp the concept of war, the brutality of war and most importantly, the concept that they can die any minute, even if they are inside a tank.
The camera positions are what one would see from the tank and the images these young men see are ingrained in their memory. Innocent villagers being caught up in war. People getting killed in bombings, people being used as hostages and no matter which perspective you have on the Lebanon War, this film makes you feel sick of all the fighting.
The cinematography by Giora Bejach is fantastic as it captures the chaos as these young men are in a confined space alongside a dead soldier or with a PLO hostage. Seeing the horror in their eyes as they know they must kill but yet do not want to hurt anyone. Their commander reiterates over and over that they are in a war but these young men can’t grasp the concept as they were with their family and some who are enjoying their final weeks at the military and then all of a sudden, they are thrust upon a hostile environment. No matter how much they were trained, these young men are horrified that they must kill other humans and they find it disturbing.
And I’m sure others who look at war as all the same will think that the banality of war films are being reiterated in “Lebanon” and as anti-war films go, yes…the perspective of soldiers in a war and not knowing what to expect and a fear of dying is a human story that one can understand. But with most films, by the third act, there is a sense of heroic activity or ultimate tragedy that is common with war films from Hollywood. But with “Lebanon”, its a hot topic and at the same time, you have to acknowledge that its a bold move for director Samuel Maoz to show fear and uncertainty during battle and its understandable why certain individuals felt it would be detrimental in signing young men in joining the Israel Defense Force.
As what Kathryn Bigelow was able to accomplish with “The Hurt Locker” here in America, Samuel Maoz was able to accomplish in Israel but also for cinema worldwide. Yes, there is a banality when it comes to war films, especially anti-war films when the message is the same and starts becoming passe….war is ugly, war is brutal, war sucks.
But I believe that the banality ends when one can come up with something new and unique. Especially from an American perspective as many are not too familiar of the wars that take place in other countries. But I really felt the claustrophobic filmmaking of a perspective of young soldiers inside a tank and seeing how these soldiers behave when on war and the chaos that slowly builds throughout the film built up a tense anticipation, wondering if these young men would be slaughtered in battle or what kind of message was the director wanting to communicate.
In the end, if anything, the storyline may have a sense of familiarity to it but “Lebanon” manages to succeed in various levels. Chaotic, visually stunning and definitely a must-see film!