Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Video review: "Lebanon"

The Academy Award nominations will be announced next week, and it would be a shock of "Lebanon" isn't among the names read for Best Foreign Language Film. In fact, this tremendous Israeli picture about a tank crew during the 1982 war in Lebanon is the odds-on favorite to win.

What's amazing about the movie is that it takes place entirely inside that tank -- grimy, smelly, cramped and oozing oil and gas like bodily fluids, the belly of that machine of war becomes another character in the story.

The crew of four young men includes Shmulik (Yoav Donat), the new gunner who's just arrived in time for a nasty mission. The tank is to accompany a platoon of paratroopers deep into Lebanese territory. As the gunner, Shmulik can peer out his sights into the world beyond -- and is horrified at what he sees.

During their first firefight, he freezes up and fails to fire their main gun, leading to one of the paratroopers being killed. Later, a captured Arab soldier is handcuffed inside the tank with them, leading to much friction.
The story reaches its horrific crescendo when the Israelis invade a Lebanese town, where women and children are right in their line of fire.

Like Shmulik, "Lebanon" bears witness to atrocities from which we cannot look away.
Video extras are rather skimpy in scope, though what there is, is decent.

"Notes on a War Film," a 24-minute feature, is an eclectic mix of interviews and footage. Writer/director Samuel Maoz -- who based the film on his own experiences during the Lebanon War -- claims that after the first day of shooting, all of the remaining shrapnel in his leg from a war wound came out of his flesh.

A funnier bit is where Maoz talks about getting the film past Israeli military censors. Just as an officer in the film does, a major insisted there were no phosphorus weapons aboard the tanks. Maoz asks her how she can say that, since he was there and remembered there were. Your memory is faulty, he is told.

Truth, it seems, is the first casualty of war.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 2 stars

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