War from a Tank's-Eye View 

Leb_625.jpg

Lebanon

Directed by Samuel Maoz



Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon has recently inspired a pair of gimmicky, not entirely successful anti-war films. In 2007, Ari Folman combined animation and documentary in Waltz with Bashir to grapple with not only his memories of the war but with memory itself—and it was a lot more interesting to think about than to watch. Two years later, in Lebanon, Samuel Maoz has set an entire movie inside a tank—at least, that may have been the misleading description of this movie you've read before. In fact, almost half of this nevertheless-claustrophobic war movie takes place outside of the tank, in battle scenes visible to the audience and the main characters through a periscope: essentially, war footage printed with convex edges and a crosshairs over the middle. Because the periscope can "cut," sort of, between close-ups and long shots, it offers a unique perspective for viewers both diegetic and non—one with vaguely metacinematic overtones.


Lebanon is set on the first day of the invasion, and its four central characters are the core crew of a battalion's single tank: the driver, the gunner, the ammunition feeder and their commander. (Despite this male quartet, Maoz manages to sneak in a hetero sex scene so hot it rivals the one in Ingmar Bergman's Persona.) Through their periscopes, they observe the carnage—the many dead, the weeping mules, the retching foot soldiers—but are also called to participate in it: to fire shells, for example, at buildings filled with weeping women-and-children held hostage by guerillas. 



The obvious parallel here is to video games—viewing war through a crosshairs is particularly arcade-esque—but there's no pretense of unreality here, no emotional alienation between spectator and image. Desensitization isn't the problem in Lebanon: it's the opposite, the soldiers' acute sensitivity to the situation, their inability to cope with the carnage. They feel too much to manage. In interviews, Maoz, who also served in a tank during the ‘82 invasion, has said he struggled with his own memories for 30 years; the film, then, serves as personal catharsis. 



Like many hyperpersonal projects, the film is intermittently problematic—for one, Maoz pushes his point about the brutality of war a bit hard, repeatedly featuring soft music over close-ups of victims' somber, or dead, faces—but it builds to a tense climax, recreating the confusion of war exacerbated by the tank's essential isolation. (Inside the tank, it's all blood, dirt, sweat, smoke, iron and urine—as elemental as the recent, prehistoric Valhalla Rising.) Ultimately, though, Maoz's film emerges as convincingly anti-war only at the very end, in the film's final shot, which is almost the same as its first: a damning, brutal, and cleverly visual punctuation point to drive home war's tragic, circular absurdity. 



Opens August 6

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