Lebanon (2009) is a claustrophobia-inducing tank movie. I stress on claustrophobia, cause once you see the sea of sunflowers and hear the wind gush through it at the beginning of the film, there are high chances that you would be more than just relieved to see it once more in the end.
The film is supposedly based on the true story of a four-member tank crew and a dozen soldiers on a short clean-up mission of a gutted town in Lebanon. Inside the tank are puddles, walls with oil dripping down them like rain on a glass window, gauges which dim as the engine draws the battery to come to life and an exhaust turned seemingly into the cabin. Sometimes the town does feel a lot better than the tank itself. We are soon made to realize that a tank is not merely a weapon but a living quarter for its crew too as we shrink back repulsively making connections with examples of scuzz around us. Our attention is brought back to the mission by the respect-demanding mission commander, Jamil (Zohar Shtrauss) , who is not as emotionless as he seems to be at first.
We follow Shmulik’s (Yoav Donat) observant gaze as he acclimatizes to his first day at his job and at war. Assi (Itay Tiran) portrays the struggling tank commander who finds himself explaining his decisions to the ever questioning Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), whose seniority also seems to be the source of Assi’s insecurity. Yigal (Michael Moshonov) plays the homesick tank driver.
Director Samuel Maoz portrays a clear picture of the tragedy of war, primarily with the help of Shmulik’s constant battle with his conscience over firing at human life, and his monoscopic survey of the gory scene after it. When his reluctance results in a casualty (called an “angel” in military code), the tank becomes a temporary hearse. As the petty mission becomes more dangerous, each encounter weighs down on the newcomers, empty ammunition boxes become urinals and the mind becomes numb from the jarring sound of the tank engine. The hydraulic whine of the turret moving with the gunsight adds the only sound to the haphazard movement outside. The “angel” is soon air-lifted with a rope tied around it and is replaced by a Syrian POW. Once in the tank with the lid closed, you see only what the crew see or hear. Being inside it limits your senses to the extent that after a short span of less than two hours, when the tank finally breaks into a sunflower field, you realize that you had been taking shorter, quicker breaths all the while.
Samuel Maoz scripted Lebanon from his scarring experience of working as a gunner in the first of the Israeli tanks during the 1982 Lebanon war. Hence, it was criticized as a deterrent for young men to join the army and is yet to receive a wide release.The film won the Golden Lion in 2009 Venice Film Festival but received rejects from Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals.
Verdict: One of the few unbiased war movies around, that are anti-war. 7.5/10