LEBANON. Starring: Oshri Cohen, Itay Tiran, Michael Moshonov, Yoav Donat, and Zohar Strauss. Directed by Samuel Maoz. Rated MA 15+ Restricted (Strong themes and violence). 90 min.
This film by Israeli director, Samuel Maoz, won the Golden Lion Award at the 2009 Venice International Film Festival. The movie is about the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and is shot almost entirely from the inside of an Israeli tank. It tells the story of four young soldiers, whose task it is to clean up a Lebanese town, which has been recently bombed by the Israeli Air Force. Their orders are to remove all that remains, and then move on to the next town. Everything is seen from the perspective of those inside the tank, nicknamed in the film, “Rhino”. Previous movies, like Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (2008), have dealt with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon by remembering its trauma, but this movie lives through the events of the invasion just as they happen. The entire action of the movie occurs within the first 24 hours of the first day of the war, and all exterior scenes are photographed through the tank’s bombsight. It is immensely compelling that virtually nothing is heard or seen except through the tank itself. The jerky bombsight becomes our access to the world outside.
This is an extraordinarily claustrophobic movie. The film deals with trauma, remorse and retribution. The four soldiers inside the tank (Moshonov, Tiran, Donat and Cohen) cannot handle what they do. They are unprepared for killing and enormously stressed by it, and its anticipation. This is the first taste of war for them, and they are totally ill-equipped for their onslaught on humanity. Panic, trauma, and stress exist everywhere, and they are afraid all of the time for their own survival.
This is an uncompromising anti-war movie as one could find. Some images in the film are horrific, and their impact seems greater because the film is photographed from inside a tank. The film shows a war in which everybody loses, leaving only the memories of terrible things one works hard to forget, but cannot. It is a scarifying movie built around the conduct of a war with unspeakable horrors, and its brutal honesty will catch many unprepared. There is a raw energy about this film that carries you unwillingly along with the trauma being experienced by the four young men, who have no idea about how to handle the reality of war. Mostly the tank has just the four of them in it, but people inhabit the tank from time to time, including the recruits’ ground commanding officer Jamil (Zohar Strauss), who like the tank’s commander, Assi (Itay Tiran), is losing touch with sanity, and a dead man, whose death the soldiers have inadvertently caused, becomes a passenger with them inside the tank.
The movie is full of anti-war imagery. We see humans being gunned down with barbarity, animals are shown in close-up crying in pain before they die, a mother has her clothes burnt off after seeing her husband and daughter destroyed, and people hope they won’t be killed, but mostly are. The movie doesn’t debate. It just shows. There are virtually no messages that give any reason for the war, and only occasionally does the film retreat into stereotypes about the worth of all that is happening. This is not a movie that discusses the right or wrong of Israel’s invasion, nor does it bring the outside world into the tank in any way. It is about what the four men in the tank do to others and to themselves, and the scarred memories that they are accumulating, which, for three of them, will cause a life-time of anxiety.
The moral confusion of armed combat in this movie is unrelenting, and ethics are placed aside as the men in the tank do whatever it is necessary to survive. The movie captures superbly the fear and trauma of the four trapped men, and “Rhino”, their war machine, becomes both the reality and the metaphor of acute distress.
This is a film, that is hard to watch, and to endure, but it is a film to be respected and admired, and it breaks new ground in cinema. It gives a uniquely internal look at the horrors of war. The film confronts by immersing you entirely into those horrors, and, in doing so, it raises profound questions about the injustice and inhumanity of war itself.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out November 25, 2010.