June, 1982 – The First Lebanon War. A lone tank and a paratroopers platoon are dispatched to search a hostile town – a simple mission that turns into a nightmare. The four members of a tank crew find themselves in a violent situation that they cannot contain. Motivated by fear and the basic instinct of survival, they desperately try not to lose themselves in the chaos of war.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL—This brilliant, explosive drama is every bit as terrifying, brutal and shocking as The Hurt Locker. A highly personal project from Israeli writer-director Samuel Maoz, the film is set almost entirely within the confines of a tank on the first day of Israel’s war with Lebanon in January 1982, a bold move which pays huge dividends in nerve-jangling tension and gut-wrenching emotion.
Awarded the Golden Lion, the top prize at the 2009 Venice International Film Festival, Lebanon has the raw, ultra-realistic tone of a documentary, blended with a tight script and superb performances
Making the movie was a redemption of sorts for Maoz, who was 20 when he was sent to fight in that war in a tank, and a few months later killed a man. Its themes are universal and could apply to any conflict in any place at any time in modern history.
The opening and closing shots are of a tranquil field of sunflowers. Everything else takes place in the tank, codenamed 'Rhino," or from the perspective of the cross-hairs of the gunner’s scope. Inside are three young soldiers, belligerent loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), nervous driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov) and gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat), and their taciturn commander Assi (Itay Tiran). From time to time, the hard-bitten unit commander Jamil (Zohar Strauss) drops into the tank, and otherwise keeps in touch via radio. Ominously, Jamil informs them the weaponry includes a phosphorous bomb which they’re not supposed to deploy; he clearly signals his willingness to use it by euphemistically referring to 'flaming smoke."
At times, the only sound is the clanking of the turret as it rotates in search of targets. The crew gets several visitors: the corpse of a slain comrade known as an 'angel," a Syrian soldier captured by the unit, and a deranged member of the Phalangists, the Lebanese-Christian paramilitary forces.
Amid the heat and stench of their dank steel 'prison,’ the soldiers’ tempers fray, arguments flare and mounting terror is reflected in their eyes. This isn’t a tale of unabashed heroism: Shmulik is unable to pull the trigger when he faces the enemy for the first time, and Yigal plaintively asks that his superiors call his parents to assure them he’s safe.
There are many unforgettable scenes, including a screaming, naked mother who pleads for mercy after her daughter is killed; the men’s panicked reactions when the tank is incapacitated by a rocket and they come under deafening, heavy fire; and the Phalangist (Ashraf Barhom) telling the Syrian in graphic detail how he plans to torture and murder him.
As with Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning film, the tension becomes almost unbearable. And like Bigelow, Moaz does not set out to judge the rights or wrongs of that particular war: he’s simply communicating the reality of combat and the effect on the combatants. Summing up his film’s ethos, Maoz has said that in every war "you have to survive whilst facing your own death: your soul is torn between the survival instinct and morality." The film is scheduled to be released in Australia in September.