Unlike many war films, writer/director Samuel Maoz’s claustrophobic chronicle of his experience in the 1982 Lebanon war presents protagonists who are neither highly motivated nor well-trained soldiers. They’re just kids – Israeli conscripts thrown into an iron ‘can’ without the skills, emotional hardiness or experience to deal with the terror that ensues.
Of course, one could argue no-one is prepared to deal with the experience of war, something explored elsewhere in the festival in the extraordinary documentary, http://tix.sff.org.au/session2.asp?sn=Restrepo.
Here Maoz succeeds in capturing the confusion and the horror but is somewhat undone by the gimmick of constraining the camera to within the tank walls. Nightmarish outside visions – such as that of a naked, distressed woman staggering through the chaos – are only glimpsed through the gunsight, the camera’s pans or tilts accompanied by the whirr of the turret’s motors. The device creates the necessary claustrophobia – it’s like Das Boot inside a tank – but it’s also so contrived that it distracts from the otherwise unsettling sense of realism.
Like, presumably, Maoz’s real experience, Lebanon is a film of fragmented moments and incomplete explanation. There’s no story here other than a sketchy mission to reach a rally point across a town controlled by the hostile Lebanese, conveyed to the four men inside the tank by occasional visits from the sketchy commander, Gamil, who treats them like scum. The morals of what to do with a captured Syrian prisoner offers some moral complexity, but Lebanon is above all a visceral experience that succeeds within its own narrow frame of reference. (JOSHUA BLACKMAN)