Lebanon (2009) movie poster

(2009) director Samuel Maoz
viewed: 03/14/11

Referred to as “Das Boot (1981) in a tank”, director Samuel Maoz’s film shares a confined location with the German submarine thriller, setting the near entirety of the film inside the tank.  The outside world is only viewed through the gunman’s viewer, in a constant bullseye.  And like Das Boot, there is a war going on outside the claustrophobic setting.  But this is Lebanon, this is 1982, these are Israeli soldiers.

The real parallel for me is not so much Wolfgang Peterson’s much-praised WWII film, but rather another Israeli film about the same war, Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008).  But there the commonality is the broader setting and subject matter, the 1982 Lebanon War.  The film itself is, despite its caprice of keeping the whole of the story trapped within the tank’s confines, is a much more straight-forward, if a tense and experiential affair.

The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and has gotten solid reviews.  But frankly, I found it a bit overwrought.  It was a mixture of the acting and the dialog, maybe really the entire thing.  You can just see everybody “acting”.  Maybe that is just to say that I wasn’t really drawn into it for whatever other reasons, but it simply didn’t work for me.

I did like the final image of the tank in the sunflower field, as well, perhaps, as the opening image of the sunflower field with the wind blowing over it, causing you to wonder if people were moving through it, was something approaching?  Or was it just the wind?  This seemed to betoken of good things to come.  But it was pretty ham-fisted in my mind.

The story starts when a new guy gets pulled into the tank.  There is a driver, a gunman, a guy to load the bombs, a leader and a driver.  They don’t have much of an idea of what’s going on, but they are to roll alongside a troop into this town and ferret out the bad guys.  An early incident on the road proves that the gunman is gunshy, and his slow trigger work winds up with killed and maimed soldiers.  Another event winds up with an innocent man being killed.  It’s clear that they are better off following orders than figuring out what it’s all about.

In that sense, it’s not given to a specific history.  And the chaos and badness that they go through is like some living nightmare.

It’s interesting to me that there have been two film in the last couple of years that have come to the fore (who knows there may have been many more) regarding this conflict.  Waltz with Bashir was a bit like psychoanalysis, coming to terms with a repressed history, memories of violence and unjust brutality.  Lebanon, like Waltz with Bashir, is made by a film-maker who experienced the conflict, and while his story is more straight-forward, there is also a sense of coming to terms with some scarring event.  It’s been referred to as an anti-war film, but it is clearly a personal film, too.

Oddly enough, I’ve never seen Das Boot. But I’m willing to guess that it’s a bit stronger of a thriller and a more successful film.  And further, I’d recommend Waltz with Bashir 10 times before recommending Lebanon.  They’re not at all the same film nor could stand in for one another, but one thing that sets them apart is the Waltz with Bashir is very good.


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