Wednesday, September 23, 2009

307) Lebanon (2009)

307) Lebanon (2009) Dir: Samuel Maoz Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 23, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

The ponderous mechanical whirring that accompanies the camera's (as gunner's sight) every movement in Lebanon is inescapable. As we see much of the film's events through this peephole-sized lens, the persistent noise it generates is one of a handful of ways writer/director Samuel Maoz ineffectually strives to remind us that his film is grounded in the muck and the blood and the grease of real-life events. He doesn't go much farther than that in dirtying up his film though, instead preferring the clarity of emotionally distant images whose deceptive coherence is only gained through retro-active contemplation. 

Which is funny because Sony Pictures Classics is distributing the film in the US because of the success of Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, which is also takes place during the First Lebanon War. The key difference between the two films however is that Waltz with Bashir is a playful interrogation of the deceptive and surreal nature of veterans' memories while Lebanon supplies a series of horrifying episodes without pausing to interrogate their meaning. 

The most immediate sign of Maoz's conflicting tendency towards prettying up his unclean war story is the way that he films the interior of the tank his small cadre of Israeli soldiers are stuck in. The tank's interior has no clear dimensions, filmed as if it were a stretch limo with room in the back for a fridge, TV, Syrian POW, what have you. The only convincing signs that the group is cramped, tired and dehydrated comes from their increasingly greasy make-up, worthy of Clouzot's Wages of Fear and the constant reverse shots of the gunner's dilated eyeball we get every third minute after he's looked outside of the tank to the decimated world outside. Their grounding effect is dismally brief however. Maoz's glass just isn't dark enough to be convincingly menacing as even the cobweb-like cracks on the gunner's periscope lens do nothing to diminish its uncannily crisp, nigh-HD-quality view. 

These little touches are omnipresent reminders that the events they/we're watching have been collected and reforged into a singular, coherent narrative. Though the terror that infects the Israelis comes from their inability to know what comes next or whose orders to follow, the film, both aesthetically and narratively, is just too composed to affect us with any kind of immediate tension.

The only time Lebanon is convincingly grungy is when the tank is stranded and the men, who by now have already spent hours within the film's subjective time feeling completely rudderless, are being led into what looks like an ambush in spite of themselves. Here Maoz batters the viewer with a battery of shaky cam close-ups but too little, too late. There's plenty of tension in the scene leading up to that manic, last-ditch lo-fi assault but everything else is too cool to be worth much consideration.

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