The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“It’ll be a walk in the park.”
War in the Middle East has been a constant of my lifetime. But I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the motivations behind it. It’s not like the good old days of WWI and WWII when there were clear beginnings and ends, clear good guys and bad guys. I know that’s a gross simplification, but it’s how those wars are framed now, in large part, thanks to the countless movies made about them. There’s never been a tidy frame for the Middle East, and I think the only movie I had ever seen about it before was Waltz With Bashir. Well now, I’ve doubled that and brought my grand total to two, with Lebanon.
In 1982, Israeli soldiers entered Lebanon, supposedly in search of Palestinian guerillas. As part of that operation, a small contingent of foot soldiers is backed up by a tank, code named Rhino. Within the tank are its commander Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), driver Assi (Itay Tiran), shell loader Yigal (Michakle Moshonov) and gunner Schmulik (Yoav Donat). Their mission starts with what should be two or three days of easy sailing, as they make their way through a town already decimated by bombings, before rendezvousing and getting set of the real push.
Before they even reach the bombed out town, things get hairy when a car refuses to stop on a road the Israeli soldiers are currently guarding. New to the team and his first mission, Schmulik freezes up and cannot bring himself to fire when the order is given. But things get worse when they enter to supposedly bombed out town. All of a sudden surrounded by Syrian soldiers, the tank his hit by rocket and all but immobilised.
The idea of a tank being claustrophobic and high pressure, high tension situation is nothing new to movies, but Lebanon, writer and director Samuel Maoz takes it to the extreme. Apart from the opening and closing shots, the entire movie takes place within the confines of the tank’s tiny cockpit. The only view we get of the outside world is through the narrow scope of the gunner’s target sites, and the occasional look through the hatch when someone comes or goes.
It’s the kind of thing that could have come off as a cheap gimmick, or worn out its welcome long before the movie was over. But Lebanon uses the tight surroundings to ratchet up the drama in such a measured way, it immensely anxious and effective. You can totally understand when these four guys struggle to make the best decisions when things get a little heated. Even when they’re acting really stupidly, it’s totally believable and understandable.
Samuel Maoz was a tank gunner in the Lebanon war of 1982. And to me, as someone with zero real life experience with anything even close to this kind of thing, he brings something to Lebanon that makes it seem more visceral than your average war movie. Others might have more explosions and action, but who needs that stuff when you have this kind of gut churning tension realism.