Lebanon – Review


Das Tank

Filming in one enclosed location sounds easy in theory but difficult to accomplish in reality. While the advantages would seem to overwhelm the negatives, from a small amount of camera setups and no pending need for more than one shooting location, actually accomplishing it is another. It’s why films tend to stay away from this format; with more scenery you have more options. It’s why a film like Das Boot is more of a rarity; designing a film that is able to take away big expansive sets and deliver a character study about men at war in a submarine. Lebanon takes this same concept and puts it into a tank during the Lebanon-Israel war of 1982 in Lebanon.

Placed inside a tank with its four man crew, the film follows a mission for an Israeli Defense Force tanker squad. The mission is to clear a city of Lebanese soldiers in what should be a walk in the park but turns into something significantly more. The crew is ill-matched, as well, giving the film a tension it might otherwise lack. Assi (Itay Tiran) is the tank’s commander but is not ready to be a leader. His gunner Schmulik (Yoav Donat) is indecisive, his bad judgment in his job resulting in fatalities. The loader, Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), is competent but seemingly has a problem with authority. Yigal (Michael Moshonov) is their driver and their commander (Zohar Shtrauss), Jamil, must drop into the tank frequently to get the men functioning and keep them on task.

Keeping the film on task is Samuel Maoz (directing a script he wrote, based in part on his experiences in the IDF) and it’s not easy feat. Shooting from inside the tank, peering outside through Schmulik’s gun sights into the outside world on occasion, there’s not much in terms of fancy camerawork or effects for this film. Israeli film isn’t really known for that, either, which makes the film that much more interesting on a conceptual basis. Israeli cinema is much more character based and exploring that side of Israeli-Arab relations. Character study pieces are much more prevalent and this is one shoe-horned into a war film. Instead of making it a more action oriented piece in the vein of The Hurt Locker, Maoz focuses on the way the men interact with one another instead.

That’s the heart of the film, seeing these characters interact in the middle of a war zone. As they go through a mission of multiple parts that doesn’t go smoothly we see their base character traits come out. Schmulik’s relative incompetence nearly gets them killed and does get several innocents killed needlessly. Assi is trying to be a stern leader but doesn’t have the fortitude to pull it off. It doesn’t help that Hertzel undercuts him often to the point where outsiders think he’s in charge of the tank. During a critical juncture when Yigal needs assistance to start the tank we get to see the true character of everyone come out. This is a spiritual cousin to The Hurt Locker in the same way Infamous was to Capote. They may be separated by 30 years, and focus on two separate conflicts in the same region, but focus on differing sides of the same coin. This is a character study of men at war, visceral character pieces that get to the heart of the combat soldier in the midst of duty.

Maoz’s ability to get inside also makes for an interesting piece on a technical level. Using the bare minimum of camera setups, mainly using long takes, the film rarely takes a break or an edit. Disconcerting at first, it makes for an interesting visual experience as the lack of camera movement allows for a concentrated viewing experience. It also gives more prominence to the film’s action sequences, adding to the danger because it’s already been established that we’re in this claustrophobic-inducing iron tank. The danger level is increased and the action becomes immediately more intense.

Once a year a film out of Israel ends up coming and going quickly from theatres before finding an audience on DVD; Lebanon deserves better than that.

Director: Samuel Maoz
Notable Cast: Oshri Cohen, Zohar Shtrauss, Michael Moshonov, Itay Tiran, Yoav Donat
Writer(s): Samuel Maoz