‘Lebanon’ emotionally brutalizing, brilliant

Lebanon, a portrait of Israeli soldiers during the 1982 invasion. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Lebanon” is not a film that is easy to experience.

As a war movie, it is fantastic, echoing the claustrophobia of “Das Boot” and the futility of “Apocalypse Now,” but it succeeds even more when it is viewed as a film about relationships, namely the bond between a small team of Israeli soldiers in a tank on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War.

The soldiers in the tank, codenamed “Rhino,” are all young and desperate to survive the war. For those who do live to see the end of the conflict, many of the lingering effects are psychological and emotional.

It is fairly obvious why the Lebanon War has been such fertile ground for Israeli cinema. “Lebanon” follows the same vein of “Waltz with Bashir” and “Beaufort,” two other recent, introspective films about soldiers in the conflict.

Director Samuel Maoz’s semi-autobiographical film spares nothing regarding the horrifying realities of war; half-maimed bodies, dying animals, promises of torture and the emotional strain placed on both ordinary soldiers and innocent civilians are all shown in vivid fashion.

The film doesn’t proselytize or take sides, rather it focuses on the emotional hell of the soldiers, some of whom are weeks from being discharged, and the stress, turmoil and uncertainty of their existence both in and out of the tank.

It isn’t always easy to tell the soldiers apart, but the performances are uniformly excellent and the lack of distinction adds to the “everyman” quality of the film; the soldiers could have been from any country in any conflict. In a way, Lebanon is a politicized take on Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit:” hell is the other soldiers, complete with fraying nerves and uncertain survival.

“Lebanon” is emotionally brutalizing and extremely visceral. It is not enjoyable by most measures, but it is an incredible experience and a brilliant film.

Sarah B. Pilchick may be contacted at spilchick@themiamihurricane.com.

Rating: 4/4 stars
Starring: Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Itay Tiran
Directed By: Samuel Maoz
MPAA Rating: R