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Tanks for the Memories
Israeli filmmaker Samuel "Shmulik" Maoz has rebooted the claustrophobic notion of filming within tight quarters in "Lebanon," a white-knuckle nod to his days as a warrior without portfolio in the Lebanon War 18 years ago.
"Lebanon" opens on Sept. 3 at the Ritz at the Bourse.
Rolling through streets, roiled in the conflict that caused years of headaches and headlines for Israel, "Lebanon" lobs hand grenades at that nation's clouded cause to be there in the first place, all seen through the perspective of soldiers at once manning and emasculated by the tank they run through the jagged shards of civilization of a bombed-out nation.
The Jewish gang that couldn't shoot straight -- the gun runner, Shmulik (Yoav Donat as the filmmaker's onscreen character), battles fear and fatigue, freezing at the crucial moment of pulling the trigger, triggering itself a round of consequences that leaves the death of another Israeli soldier blood-staining his memory possibly forever.
What is unsaid in the script -- but is heard in echoing cascades of the past -- is Israel's silence at the time of the Sabra and Shatila refugee-camp massacres at the hands of the Lebanese Christians, when the Israeli military watched the one-sided slaughter as spectator, a spectacle of irresponsibility whose domino effect toppled careers and questioned Israel's culpability in the tragedy.
This Beirut bombshell of movie -- which took home the Golden Lion award at the 66th Venice International Film festival -- has caused a roar of protest in Israel itself, where its susceptibility to sustain Israel's image as warmonger has way-laid the nation, causing concern and corrupting hopes that Israel can ever step away from its leering Lebanon War death shroud.
This is no military recruitment poster of a movie.
As Israel's Vietnam -- so called by critics -- blows up in its larger-than-life face onscreen, Maoz may be credited with depicting the ultimate anti-war film, yet from the small Mideast nation scarred by war and scorned by its neighbors, joining such past major Israeli accomplishments as the past two years' Oscar nominees "Waltz With Bashir" and "Beaufort" for bragging rights.
The unmitigated intensity of the 93-minute inside-the-tank battle cry for understanding or explanation is shivering and suffocating, erupting in frightening frissons that transform audiences into unwitting troops themselves.
With "Das Boat" as its claustrophobic movie model, "Lebanon" swims against the tide on its own, although there is some irony in discovering that the movie is an Israel-German collaboration.
It could all be viewed as just another friendly-fire film, in which Israeli filmmakers aim the guns at their own nation's head. But as this probing if problematic film follows it scorched-earth script, the tank -- cast as a character itself in dank, doom-filled landscapes, eluding the sunshine of a promised land of decisive victory -- ultimately escapes the muzzle of war by rolling from the gravel of grimness onto a field of blazing sunflowers.
Indeed, the filmmaker seems to ask, where have all the flowers gone?