Sunday, September 5, 2010


"Lebanon" is admirably inflicting, but as a result it is also repetitive, (as Scott Tobias et al. said) heavy-handed, and poorly paced. Add to that it being so abruptly and disappointingly ended that I cried out in the theater. This is in no way "Waltz With Bashir," although it tells of its subject in what may seem like a better way. Whereas "Bashir" was built on surrealism, this film is grounded (almost entirely) in realism. The film sort of follows Schmulik (Yoav Donat), who represents the director, Samuel Maoz. He gets assigned into the "Rhino" tank on the first day of the First Lebanon War to be a gunman, along with high-strung Assi (Itay Tiran), complaining Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), and nervous driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov). There may be another, but my memory fails me.

The rest of the film involves the tank's moving forward through Lebanon to get to a "hotel" and then beyond that. The film portrays this by (as Jim Emerson said) placing the audience on the same level as the soldiers in the tank. Conceptually, this is brilliant, but it doesn't entirely translate over into the final product. One way that the film strays from making this work is how (as people on IMDb et al. said) stylized things get. A cigarette dropped on the wet floor of the tank is shown from a reflection. Also, a visual passage involving a bazooka is cribbed almost exactly from "Bashir," and however beautiful, this is also highly stylized. As Nick Davis sort of said, there are also dubious breaks in time via the editing, which de-authenticize the film more so. If you want to do a film like this, with realism, I would suggest not deviating too much.

Anyways, there are great moments in this film. The shots involving the vehicles coming down the lane between the flowers are excellent, especially the one that shows the aftermath of a "shell to the engine." I also think the shot where the tank plows through the sunflowers is awesome. I also think the oft-pictured scene with the woman who comes after the soldier is good as well (minus the part, as Jim Emerson said, where she looks into the camera, which was more evidence of the film's heavy-handed nature, although I wonder if this moment actually happened to Maoz). And I very much admire, minus Schmulik's urgent Jack Nicholson/"Cuckoo Nest"-esque shouting, the antepenultimate scene, which was extremely involving, what with the music playing and the engine having a hard time starting and the camera shaking all around.

But the film is sabotaged as if by a "Flaming Smoke" by its pacing (or as Nick Davis said, "dramatic structure"), which lacks enough real downtime (which is perhaps the point) besides an engrossing but ineffective "hard-on" story, as well as by its repetitive shots and actions, which include Schmulik's face, scope zooms, and people incessantly (as Jim Emerson noted) getting in and out of the tank. This repetition I'm sure is also intentional, but it got on my nerves. The film also has a ridiculous ending that makes one reconsider what the hell the film actually about, being preceded by a unnecessarily long shot of a guy urinating. Or, I should make clear, it seems ridiculous as you're watching it, but it could be on some level considered well-chosen, illustrating that: 1) war goes on, and 2) as my friend said, "there's a beautiful world out there" (though not entirely beautiful, due to the symbolism behind it). All into consideration, I think the film (however unintentionally) pulls the rug out from underneath to leave us with a lesser film.

"Lebanon" for me is disappointing, a narrative experiment with some great moments that doesn't go entirely right and doesn't really deserve the Golden Lion it won. Looking at the Lebanon War from this view and (as said before) transcribing Maoz's past could have worked, but Maoz squanders it with too much style and (as Nick Davis said) poor pacing. C+

Note: What was up with those subtitles? "!?" is fine once or twice, but when overused, it's distracting.


Stephanie said...

Thanks for the honest review. I have been interested in this movie -- maybe I'll try Waltz in Bashir instead.

Nick Duval said...

Waltz With Bashir is a great film. Please do seek it out.