Dir. Samuel Moaz. Israel. 2010.

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“When the lambs is lost in the mountain, they is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime come the wolf.” -  Cormac McCarthy

Underneath all the heroic clichés, it is no secret that war is hell. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than Samuel Moaz' powerful Lebanon, a film based on his personal experience as a 20-year-old gunner in June, 1982 during the first Israeli-Lebanon War. As Moaz reveals, the war is never over even though treaties are signed. Those who survive carry with them emotional scars that can be buried but never erased. The director has said that he tried to write the script six years after the war but could not get past the smell of burning flesh. “As long as I was smelling it”, he asserts, “I wasn't ready yet.”  It has taken him twenty-five years to become ready.

The film is a searing memoir about the terror and confusion that occurred during the unit's first combat mission and we see the war entirely from their perspective and learn only what they know, which is very little. Lebanon takes place almost entirely inside a tank (given the code name Rhino) where the soldier's only contact with the outside world is through a periscope. Set on the first day of the invasion, Moaz looks into the minds of four Israeli soldiers inside the tank, which is: commander Assi (Itay Tiran), loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov), and gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat), who personifies the experiences of the director. Their direct commander is a major, Jamil (Zohar Strauss), who gives orders by radio and only enters the tank to solve a problem. 
Jamil's manner is gruff and uncompromising, focused entirely on the purpose of the mission and unwilling to indulge any questioning from the unit. His anger explodes when Shmulik freezes with fear and is unable to pull the trigger as an enemy car approaches, resulting in the death of one of his men. Though well prepared for battle as are most IDF recruits, the direct experience of being in combat takes place in an entirely different level of reality and renders their training almost irrelevant. Fearful of what is to come, Yigal talks about going home and repeatedly asks Jamil to contact his mother to tell her he's okay while the articulate Hertzel mouths off at anyone within his rang of sight, regardless of rank. After the tank is hit by a shell, Yigal repeatedly cries that the dials don't work and their mission should be aborted. 

Gamil, however, soon straightens him out, making him pump the gas pedal for what seems like an eternity until the tank starts. At first they are told that their purpose is simply to enter a Lebanese city, euphemistically named St. Tropez, and clear away any snipers left after Israeli bombing. To their surprise, however, they find themselves in the middle of Syrian-controlled territory and are compelled to fire at buildings where women and children are being held hostage. As their hold on reality begins to weaken, their experience becomes even more bizarre when they capture and hold prisoner a Syrian soldier (Dudu Tassa) who is taunted in a sick manner by the violent Phalangist (Christian Arab) (Ashraf Barhom), the man they were told would lead them out of the city.

Beginning and ending in a field of dying yellow sunflowers, Lebanon comes at us like a relentless wave, searing the mind and drowning the soul. In the film's ability to recreate what it feels like to be trapped, we experience the soldier's claustrophobia and feel the sweat running down their brows. Moaz, talking about his intentions for the film said, “My ambition is that you won't feel like an objective audience watching the plot rolling in front of you. I want you to experience it, to feel it, to sit in the gunner's chair, to see the cross hairs, to see the victim staring into your eyes.” Fulfilling Moaz' ambition, every moment of the film will go straight from his heart into yours, where it may remain forever.


Howard Schumann

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