Lebanon an Israeli Hurt Locker is selling both films far too short. Yet here I am saying just that. Actually the films are only comparable on the surface - an intense movie about a 3-man bomb disposal unit in the Middle East vs. an intense movie about a 4-man tank squad in the Middle East - and Lebanon never quite reaches the lyrical qualities that make up Kathryn Bigelow's film, nor the emotional resonance of the situations, but the comparison is nonetheless inevitable. Another inevitable comparison - and probably a more apt one - is toward the film Das Boot.
Filmed almost entirely inside the tank (or rather Maoz's recreation of said tank) and with exterior shots (with one lone climactic exception) made through the tank's gun sights, Lebanon is a claustrophobic film - much like Das Boot and that film's enclosed submarine reality - and in being so, creates its own filmic space in which to reside (something The Hurt Locker does but on a much less gutty level and on a more open-aired level so to speak) - and again, like Das Boot, its own form of reality. This tightness - this I-can't-breathe-get-me-the-hell-outta-here headspace - makes for a raised level of intensity (much like The Hurt Locker's tantalizing bomb defusing set pieces did) and when the men in that tank are screaming and reacting (or in one case, not reacting) we too can become lost in their reality.
As I already stated, Lebanon never reaches the lyricism of The Hurt Locker (where Bigelow's film is cerebral, Maoz's is guttural) nor would we expect it to, and my comparison is probably unfair to both films (why did I not call The Hurt Locker the American Lebanon?) but as a film on its own - without the comparisons made inevitable by the lore of film history (and T.S. Eliot's quote about comparing the living artist with those gone before him) - Lebanon is a remarkably engulfing, agonizing, if not cinematically poetic, look at those first days of the Lebanon War (all of which is based on director Maoz's real-life encounter in said war). Maoz's film is indeed a gutsy work of (almost) guerilla filmmaking in many ways, and if it doesn't quite have the poeticism of that other film I keep going back too, it certainly has a tragic brutality made insular monstrosity in Maoz's tightly confined camera. [11/08/10]