Short Takes: Lebanon review
(Samuel Maoz, Israel/France/U.K., 2009)A first-person, experimental take on the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon
Written by Nicolas Rapold
A veteran of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, director Samuel Maoz attempts to render his experience with maximum fidelity in this tank-bound drama, and in so doing has produced something that fundamentally resembles a piece of experimental theater. Alternating between sweatily tense and dimly lit dialogue within, and the rubble and chaos outside scanned through the tank’s viewfinder, it’s a bluntly fractured work that founders on the stock quality of the characters and uneven acting in the film’s in extremis scenes.
The squabbling four-man crew is called upon as backup in a variety of situations, primarily in a city war zone that gets hairier by the minute—no one is getting out of this one without permanent psychological and moral scars. And as if the urban warfare isn’t claustrophobic enough, Maoz steers this long journey into the night into a tense Syrian POW situation inflamed by a wild-card Phalangist militia man.
The view of the world outside, as seen by the nervous gunner Shmulik, is not comforting—nor is it the rumbling, mobile perspective that tank warfare might imply. These are more like traumatic snapshots (e.g. civilians in a building split open like a dollhouse), punctuated by the punched-out sounds of the viewfinder that evoke a hellish live slideshow. Though not as explicitly focused on memory as Waltz with Bashir, Lebanon’s style lends its own dredged-from-memory, expressionistic rawness.