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Cooped Up in a Tank, Running on Empty

MOVIE REVIEW
Lebanon (2009)

Lebanon
The Film Society of Lincoln Center/
Celluloid Dreams

“Lebanon” — the newly-minted Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival — is a personal account from director Samuel Maoz, who served in the Israeli army during its 1982 invasion of the eponymous nation now famous mostly for Hezbollah and rocket attacks. But a live-action “Waltz with Bashir” it is most certainly not. The film is in many ways so indistinguishable from “Beaufort,” an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film in 2008, that one constantly wonders what the Venice jury headed by Ang Lee saw in Mr. Maoz’s film that made it so special.

The film mostly takes place inside the cramped quarters of a tank, where four inexperienced 20something soldiers bicker about taking part in a war for which they are emotionally and psychologically unprepared. For example, the gunner Shmuel (Yoav Donat) hesitates to fire even when given an explicit order. Miscommunication causes the band of brothers to veer off course, and the crew ends up surrounded by Syrian troops.

“Lebanon” and “Beaufort” are both more appropriate for the stage than the screen, given their claustrophobic and stagnant settings. Since these films aren’t deliberately philosophical on the order of “The Thin Red Line,” they give the inadvertent impression that war can be tedious and uneventful as depicted in “Jarhead” and the bulk of “Saving Private Ryan.” But what makes “Waltz with Bashir” a far superior take on the Lebanon war isn’t its ingenious use of animation, but director Ari Folman’s addition of a contemporary dimension that lends perspective. Without this, “Lebanon” is merely another commendable antiwar movie.

LEBANON

Opens on April 9, 2010 in Britain, on Aug. 6, 2010 in New York and on Aug. 13, 2010 in Los Angeles.

Written and directed by Samuel Maoz; director of photography, Giora Bejach; edited by Arik Lahav-Leibovich; music by Nicolas Becker; production designer, Ariel Roshko; costumes by Hila Bargirel; produced by Uri Sabag, Einat Bikel, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, David Silber, Benjamina Mirnik and Ilann Girard; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States) and Metrodome Distribution (Britain). In Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Yoav Donat (Shmulik), Itay Tiran (Assi), Oshri Cohen (Hertzel), Michael Moshonov (Yigal), Zohar Strauss (Jamil), Dudu Tassa (Syrian Captive), Ashraf Barhom (Phalangist Mother) and Reymonde Amsellem (Lebanese Mother).

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