7 October 2010 | jdesando
"Man is steel, the tank is only iron." Sign inside the Israeli tank.
Lebanon is a claustrophobic cinema verite about an Israeli tank patrolling the First Lebanon War in 1982. On its way with paratroopers to survey a leveled, hostile town, the tank encounters enemies, and the inconvenience, boredom, and terror of living inside an iron box with not even enough room to pee. The above sign is amply ironic about the decidedly unsteel-like humans. The voice of Central Command coming over the communication network reminds me of Pinter or Beckett, ominous and remote, not anyone's idea of a benevolent god.
Comparisons have been made between this film and Das Boot (1981), the memorable submarine movie, also mostly shot inside the warship. However, Das Boot seems like a 4000 square foot condo next to Lebanon's 600 square apartment, so much more room does the sub seem to have with walking and just standing upright. Comparisons also have been made with last year's Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker. Their minimalism has much in common, but Hurt Locker gives richer characters and more breathing space.
The conflicts in Lebanon besides the grubby, grueling tank interior include the choice of shooting the enemy or not. The Solomon choices of blasting or not a car with passengers, a farmer's truck, and a young boy are dramatically intense. Also, when a Syrian prisoner is taken, the choice of how to treat him is not so easy because a supposedly helpful but devious Phalangist (Christian Arab) may want to torture him, unbeknownst to the Israelis.
The close up camera work is expertly done as it invites the audience to look while being repulsed at the same time, not an easy cinematic feat. The first and last shots of a sunflower field are another ironic touch.
This is a film to help us understand the harrowing life of soldiers and the ambiguous morality of war.