Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This is not a review, it is a recommendation. This Thursday and Friday, October 1 and 2, the New York Film Festival will be presenting Lebanon, a feature film that takes us—by tank—into the first 24 hours of the 1982 Lebanon war, i.e., when Israel’s troops entered Lebanon in pursuit of the PLO. For anyone who thinks war is anything less than horrific, or possibly that there is something heroic about sending young people into it, this film is obligatory.
Via one tank, one day and five soldiers, the director captures the claustrophobia and terror of the dank interior of an Israeli battle tank.
This tank stalls in war, gets lost, runs amok. It takes a hit, it takes on a captured, wounded Syrian soldier. “Treat him good,” an Israeli officer says, “He’s a war prisoner.” The tank’s driver panics, its gunner freezes at the sight of his first target, closes his eyes as he fires at the second one. Its commander has trouble controlling his men.
His men are boys. One asks a superior officer to call his home and let his mother know he’s all right.
None of this is the stuff of screenplays. In Lebanon in 1982, I saw a sign instructing Israeli soldiers to do just that. “Call Home. Call Your Parents—At Every Opportunity.” Such signs appeared with telephones installed along the Israeli-Lebanon border.
While I spoke with soldiers on Lebanon’s coastal road outside Damour, I kept an eye on a friend, a seasoned woman who was a prominent Israeli journalist, as she spoke softly with a young soldier. In the day’s twilight, I saw him help her up and then help her lower herself into a tank similar to one her son had died in during the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, the “Yom Kippur War” of 1973. When she emerged, not more than five minutes later, she seemed calmer than she had been all day. “Go ahead,” she said as she approached me, “Ask your question.” She was right, I had one. “How do you deal with it?” I asked gently as I could. She answered, “If you don’t, you go mad. Yes, I think you must go mad.”
Lebanon, an Israeli film directed by Samuel Maoz. Alice Tully Hall, Broadway at 65th Street. Thursday, October 1 at 9:30 p.m. and Friday, October 2 at 3 p.m.