LEBANON is the Venice Golden Lion winning debut feature from Israeli director Samuel Maoz. It is, simply put, the most brutal film I have seen during this festival and also the best. It makes THE ROAD look like light family entertainment. Samuel Maoz’s story is almost entirely set within the confines of an Israeli tank participating in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. We meet the crew as they meet each other - some matter-of-fact about the task ahead, some incredibly nervous about making it out alive. They are already in the tank, so the atmosphere is dark, dank and claustrophobic. For the next hour and a half, all we will see of the outside world is what they see through their view-finder, and very rarely, when they dare to poke their head out of the tank. The initial raid happens at breakfast time. The newbie tank driver is reluctant to fire upon the civilians he sees in his view finder. The on the ground troops he is supporting finish the job for him. Through the view finder we pick up truly horrific sights: mutilated people - both Isaraeli and Lebanese and butchered animals. After the raid, the tank loses its way and is marooned in Syrian held territory. The tank is ordered to wait for Phalangish (Christian Arab) help. The Phalangist who arrives is even more savage than the tank commander, threatening the Lebanon prisoner-of-war, being held inside the tank, with torture. The young Israeli soldiers are uncomprehending (literally because of the language barrier) and also because they are just not used to this degree of brutality.
What I love about LEBANON is its unflinching gaze and the even-handedness with which it portrays both Israeli and Lebanese. The formal constraint of depicting life within the tank is sustained marvellously. Simply put, this is a superb film.
LEBANON opened in Israel earlier this year and played Venice and Toronto. It opens in France on January 13th.