Set during the 1982 Lebanon War and based entirely inside a tank, Israeli filmmaker Samuel Moaz’s Lebanon is the second single-setting war movie released in 2010. The first was Rodrigo Cortés’ Iraq-themed Buried, which, based entirely inside a coffin, makes the setting of Moaz’s film seem damn near luxurious by comparison.
Luxurious, however, isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind when describing Lebanon. When Moaz hits his stride and this tense, twitchy, sweat ‘n’ stink soaked film jolts into gear, it makes for uncomfortable and occasionally thrilling viewing. Lebanon’s itchy atmosphere smacks audiences across the face like a gust of foul and corrosive wind.
The tank in which the audience and the characters are confined is manned by four inexperienced soldiers: driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov), loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), cautious gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat) and their anxious and unassured commander Assi (Itay Tiran). The team’s personality traits are diametrically opposed, ensuring that conflict within the group will be juxtaposed alongside the horrific events transpiring outside.
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The mission begins with a simple objective: block a road. Tension gathers when the tank moves into town. Visions of the world outside are presented to the audience through the tank’s periscope, as the characters, caked in sweat and fear, peer into it through panicked eyes. It’s a compelling spark of narrative innovation, a storytelling sleight that allows perspective to expand outside the borders of the single setting confines in a similar manner to the way a mobile phone was used in Buried or a phone booth in, well, Phone Booth.
Lebanon’s plot is staggered and stop-start, the script ungracefully lurching into splotches of action and then retreating, and throwing the viewer hither and thither in the process. The pace is never fluid and at worst Moaz’s bold white-knuckle flick is a tad contrived; at best it’s dynamite stuff: a war pic littered with powerful scenes and achingly real performances.
The details: Lebanon opened in cinemas nationally last Thursday.