Written & Directed by: Samuel Maoz
Setting: Israel & Lebanon
On the first day of the First Lebanon War, June 6, 1982, a small group of Israeli soldiers man a tank. Introductions are exchanged, and they roll into Lebanon. Their instructions are simple and grim:
“Our air force just bombed a village and wiped it off the map…make sure there’s nothing left.”
Most of the movie takes place inside the tank. It is a claustrophobic experience, highlighted by odd, close-up camera angles. It has been compared to Das Boot, which I haven’t seen yet, a movie that takes place inside a German U-boat in World War II. In Lebanon, We only see the world through this crosshairs of a gun–this, in itself, speaks volumes.
The four young men inside the tank are not yet hardened to battle, and the tank commander, Assi, is a bit awkward in his position of authority. Tensions flare, and we know these men only through their tense interactions — and occasional moments of humanity and compassion — during their foray into the bombed village. We also meet the tank commander’s superior officer, a Syrian prisoner of war, and a phalangist, a Lebanese Christian allied with Israel.
This is a painful movie to watch; that’s as it should be. I sometimes divide war movies into two categories: action-oriented war flicks that glorify the heroism of people in battle and movies that deliberately deliver the message “war is hell.” Lebanon appears to be neither. It tells the story, unflinchingly and without embellishment, literally through the eyes of a tank gunner. We see Israeli soldiers committing atrocities and, at the same time, we see how not committing these ruthless acts sometimes costs lives. The result is a powerful film with innovative cinematography and many unforgettable moments, sometimes revealed without a single word being spoken.