Friday, September 25, 2009

NYFF 2009: Samuel Maoz's Lebanon

To call Samuel Maoz's 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 hath been made.  Perhaps it is merely the timing of the two films being out relatively contemporarily.  Whatever the case, as I watched Lebanon I was reminded of The Hurt Locker on several occasions.  I was also reminded of another film - the massive Das Boot.

Filmed almost entirely inside the tank (or rather Maoz's recreation of said tank) and with exterior shots made only 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 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).  It must have hit some nerves (and how could it not really?) since the screening was stone quiet as the film ended and we critics wandered out into the lobby of Walter Reade.

It was announced a few days ago that Lebanon was picked up by Sony Classics so it will get a US release (after winning the Golden Lion at Venice and getting 10 nominations for the Israeli Academy Awards, a US deal was certainly inevitable) but no firm date has been set yet.  My best guess is late December followed by an early 2010 rollout.  Whatever the case, I will have a review coming at that time.  Up next in my NYFF 2009 ongoing reports will be Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective.  (ed. note: the film will be released in the US on 08/06/2010)

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