Lebanon (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
January 4, 2011 by Dennis Amith
An anti-war film with a clear message. Samuel Maoz’s “Lebanon” is a magnificent war film that captures the fear of young soldiers but while most films show soldiers in the battlefield, the film shows a the soldiers point of view inside a tank. Chaotic, visually stunning and definitely a must-see film!
Image courtesy of © 2009, 2009 Metro Communications, Paralite Productions, Arsam International sarl, Ariel Films GMBH and Arte France Cinema. All Rights Reserved.
YEAR OF FILM: 2009
DURATION: 93 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 Aspect Ratio), Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RELEASE DATE: January 18, 2011
Written and Directed by Samuel Maoz
Produced by Anat Bikel, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery, Ilann Girard, Benjamina Mirnik, Uri Sabag, David Silber
Executive Producer: Sonja Ewers, Gil Sassower
Line Producer: Meir Tetzet
Music by Nicolas Becker, Benoit Delbecq
Cinematography by Giora Bejach
Edited by Arik Leibovitch
Casting by Hila Yuval
Production Design by Ariel Roshko
Costume Design by Laura Sheim
Yoav Donat as Shmulik
Itay Tiran as Assi
Oshri Cohen as Hertzel
Michael Moshonov as Yigal
Zohar Shtrauss as Gamil
In 1982, during the First Lebanon War, a tank manned by a novice crew of Israeli soldiers are led into a town previously bombed by the air force. Young men who have never fought before are now placed inside of a killing machine and thrown into a situation that quickly spins out of control, testing the mental toughness of the men inside of a confined space, with only the lens of a periscopic gun sight to see the madness outside. In LEBANON, writer-director Samuel Maoz has created a compelling, visceral drama in the tradition of Das Boot. Based on his personal experiences in the Israeli army, the film is as much a personal work of filmmaking as a triumph of powerful storytelling.
Lebanon, a country that has had stryfe with in its history, most recently with the The Lebanese Civil War, a war that lasted from 1975 to 1990 with fatalities estimated at around 130,000-250,000, one million wounded and 350,000 people displaced.
But In 1982, another war which lasted from June-September of that year known as the “1982 Lebanon War” or “First Lebanon War” took place in which the Israel Defense Force invaded Southern Lebanon after an assassination attempt by the Abu Nidal Organization was made on Israel’s ambassador Shlomo Argov to the United Kingdom.
In 2009, Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz, who was a gunner in one of the first Israeli tanks to enter Lebanon wrote and directed the film “Lebanon” which would go on to win the Golden Lion at the 66th Venice International Film Festival (the first Israeli film to win the coveted award). The film would also be nominated for 10 Ophir Awards and would win the 14th Annual Satyajit Ray Award. The film is based on his experience during the war in Lebanon.
Receiving rave reviews from film critics, “Lebanon” will be released in the U.S. on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
While “Lebanon” has received rave reviews, in Israel, the film has been controversial as it is considered an anti-war film and the country felt it may deter young men from volunteering for the Army. Many championed the boldness of Director Maoz for creating a film based on the fears of young soldiers during the Lebanon War, emotions that are typically not seen in films based on the Lebanon War.
“Lebanon” begins with four young men Herzi (played by Oshri Cohen), Yigal (played by Michael Moshonov), Assi (played by Itay Tiran) and Shmulik (played by Yoav Donat), Israeli soldiers who are not too sure what they are going to do while on duty.
If anything, some of these young men are excited to be leaving the military in weeks, others who just want to be with their family but for the most part, four young soldiers riding in a tank, not knowing what their mission is about.
The four men are visited by Jamil (played by Zohar Shtrauss) who tells them that he is their commanding officer and that they will be going to a village that was bombed, to make sure to make sure there are no survivors in that village) and make it to safety at another village when they are done. The first part will be the challenge but the rules are, if they see a car coming that doesn’t stop, to shoot at the left side, then the right. If the car still doesn’t stop, shoot at the engines to disable the car. They will be the only tank accompanying the soldiers to this village.
While the young men drive their tank, we see the perspective of the outside through the tank. A car starts to rush towards the tank and the gunman Shmulik shoots once to the left and once to the right but when the soldiers wait for him to shoot towards the engine, he panics and freaks out and unable to do his job. The soldiers end up having to stop the car and end up shooting at it and are in a gunfight with the opposition who shoot and kills one of their own foot soldiers. Shmulik can see the face of everyone trying to revive the soldier to no avail and he sees their disappointment.
Shmulik and the other soldiers know that they just messed up and one of their own soldiers got killed. Shmulik said he never shot at anything but barrels before and he couldn’t do it. Upset by their performance and unable to get any medical help for the deceased, Jamil orders the deceased soldier to be put inside the tank. A dead man in the tank raises the paranoia of those inside the tank. Another car comes with a farmer and Shmulik freaks out about not taking out the enemy during their last exchange, shoots down the innocent farmer and blows up his truck.
The farmer is seen without his body parts and Shmulik once again knows he messed up and sees the faces of everyone of his mess up and seeing Jamil having to shoot the farmer down to put him out of his misery.
Now the four soldiers begin to panic. Shmulik doesn’t want to be kill anyone. He just wants to lock and load and wants Herzi to kill the person. Herzi is not effective as a leader and appears to be more concerned about his status in the military and what his father will think. Assi (who will be in charge of the loading the artillery) is a person who upset that Herzi can’t lead and that his gunman can’t shoot, while Yigal tries to keep quiet while he drives the tank.
Once again, the four receive a stern warning from their commanding officer Jamil.
As the four travel by tank to the village, they see nothing but dead people. A few who are alive just sit and stare and the soldiers can see the eyes of these villagers with discontent. As they drive to the city, the soldiers see a family who have been kept hostage by terrorists. Jamil wants Shmulik to take out the terrorists but with a family standing by, both he and Herzi are unable to do it. In the end, the terrorists kill the family’s father and the Israel soldiers end up blasting the building where the family and the terrorists were. We see a woman running out screaming about where her family is, where her daughter is and the young soldiers in the tank watch and see the anguish on her face.
Jamil once again admonishes the soldiers in the tank for not listening and taking the terrorists out. As the four young soldiers continue to be indecisive about their role as soldiers, they don’t know a PLO soldier is aiming a rocket launcher at them. By the time they see him shoot, it’s too late. A blast has crippled the tanks defenses. All men survive but now the tank is not as operational as it should be.
Although the tank suffered major damage, because it may not be able to work, some of the soldiers inside the tank think it’s a “get out” card and that they no longer have to fight in the war because they have no tank and someone will rescue them.
Jamil and his soldiers catch the PLO soldier that shot the rocket launcher at the tank and in hopes to get the young soldiers minds back to the war they are fighting, he chains the PLO soldier inside their tank. When the soldiers tell them that the tank is crippled and won’t run and that they need air support to pick them up, Jamil tells them that they are in war and that no one will pick them up. When Assi tells them that he is supposed to get out of the military in two weeks, Jamil tells him that it’s not going to happen because of the war.
The men now worry that with the tank heavily damage, the threat of their deaths are now becoming real. And now the four start to panic whether or not they will survive this mission.
“Lebanon” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1). The picture quality for “Lebanon” is fantastic! While most of the shots take place inside the tank, we see details so clearly.
From the grime and stubble, the skin pores on the soldiers faces. The sweat beads dripping from their face, there is one scene with a mule who’s insides look as it if it was just ripped apart and when you see closeups of the mule, you see its mouth breathing and tears coming out of its eyes. You see closeups of people as their face of fear, regret and anger as they look directly towards the tank, start having its effect on the soldiers.
The destroyed buildings, the bloody soldiers, the liquid dripping on the tanks floors and its instrument panels, everything is shown with great clarity and detail. While outdoor scenes and blasts are vibrant in colors, blacks are also nice and deep and there is a good amount of grain that can be seen throughout the film.
Rarely do we see films that are focused from the perspective of those inside a tank but it was well-captured in this film. And alongside great picture quality, what made this film quite effective is its lossless soundtrack.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Lebanon” is presented in Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD MA.
One reason that makes “Lebanon” so successful is how it utilizes sound of the camera and tank moving side to side, up and down and hearing the ambiance of whats inside the tank, hearing the tank run at full speed, especially when it is damaged and you can hear parts of the tank not working or trying to work.
Because this is war-time, you’re going to hear a lot of machine guns, artillery blasts, planes flying overhead…while the front and center channels provide clarity with the main dialogue, the surround channels are used in full effect and it makes you feel as you are another person inside that tank as you hear the tank’s movements all around you. Definitely an effective lossless soundtrack that is quite impressive!
As for the subtitles, “Lebanon” is presented in English and English SDH.
“Lebanon” comes with the following special features:
- Notes on a War Film – (24:24) Presented in standard definition, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Lebanon” with Director Samuel Maoz.
- Theatrical trailer – (2:12) The theatrical trailer for “Lebanon”.
Whenever you come across a film that has won a “Golden Lion” at the Venice Film Festival, you tend to watch these films with the highest of expectations.
To tell you the truth, I was not too sure of what to expect of “Lebanon”. In 2008, we had a taste of war cinema taking place during the Lebanon War with “Waltz with Bashir” giving us a perspective of unity, brotherhood and the glory of the battle for the Israeli Defense Force but also the massacre by the Phalangists and to show that there is nothing beautiful or good about war.
In “Lebanon”, we get a different perspective of the war as writer/director Samuel Maoz uses his own personal experience as a tank gunner and shows us the perspective of war for for young soldiers who really don’t grasp the concept of war, the brutality of war and most importantly, the concept that they can die any minute, even if they are inside a tank.
The camera positions are what one would see from the tank and the images these young men see are ingrained in their memory. Innocent villagers being caught up in war. People getting killed in bombings, people being used as hostages and no matter which perspective you have on the Lebanon War, this film makes you feel sick of all the fighting.
The cinematography by Giora Bejach is fantastic as it captures the chaos as these young men are in a confined space alongside a dead soldier or with a PLO hostage. Seeing the horror in their eyes as they know they must kill but yet do not want to hurt anyone. Their commander reiterates over and over that they are in a war but these young men can’t grasp the concept as they were with their family and some who are enjoying their final weeks at the military and then all of a sudden, they are thrust upon a hostile environment. No matter how much they were trained, these young men are horrified that they must kill other humans and they find it disturbing.
And I’m sure others who look at war as all the same will think that the banality of war films are being reiterated in “Lebanon” and as anti-war films go, yes…the perspective of soldiers in a war and not knowing what to expect and a fear of dying is a human story that one can understand. But with most films, by the third act, there is a sense of heroic activity or ultimate tragedy that is common with war films from Hollywood. But with “Lebanon”, its a hot topic and at the same time, you have to acknowledge that its a bold move for director Samuel Maoz to show fear and uncertainty during battle and its understandable why certain individuals felt it would be detrimental in signing young men in joining the Israel Defense Force.
As what Kathryn Bigelow was able to accomplish with “The Hurt Locker” here in America, Samuel Maoz was able to accomplish in Israel but also for cinema worldwide. Yes, there is a banality when it comes to war films, especially anti-war films when the message is the same and starts becoming passe….war is ugly, war is brutal, war sucks.
But I believe that the banality ends when one can come up with something new and unique. Especially from an American perspective as many are not too familiar of the wars that take place in other countries. But I really felt the claustrophobic filmmaking of a perspective of young soldiers inside a tank and seeing how these soldiers behave when on war and the chaos that slowly builds throughout the film built up a tense anticipation, wondering if these young men would be slaughtered in battle or what kind of message was the director wanting to communicate.
As for the Blu-ray, outstanding picture quality and lossless audio. I wish there were more special features. May it be audio commentary or interviews, just something extra. But on Blu-ray, “Lebanon” looks and sounds fantastic.
In the end, if anything, the storyline may have a sense of familiarity to it but “Lebanon” manages to succeed in various levels. Chaotic, visually stunning and definitely a must-see film!
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