It was a promising start: a film shot from inside an Israeli tank as it battles its way into Lebanon during the 1982 invasion. Lebanon won a clutch of prizes at international film festivals and it created a stir inside Israel and protests where it was shown.
The idea is a good one. The tank represents the disconnection between Israel and its victims – a powerful mismatch of firepower. It depicts in graphic detail the violence of war, the claustrophobia of living, and dying, inside the steel hull of a tank. The tank crew watch the horror of the war through the crosshairs of machine guns and cannons. The camera lingers on the victims and the horrific results of Israeli firepower.
But the film does not work. There is little tension. The Israeli soldiers are disillusioned with the war on the first day. The deterioration of the Israeli army and the collapse in morale that marked the Lebanon misadventure took longer to unravel.
This leaves the film hanging. The narrative unfortunately rests on stereotypes. All the bad guys are bad – the Palestinians, the Syrians and Israel’s allies among the Christian militias. Unfortunately this does not ring true. The wars in Lebanon were bloody, and reached levels of cruelty that have left deep scars. But this itself was the result of a long process of brutalisation among fighters who saw their cause as right.
But at one level the film does reveal the deep unease inside Israel about its wars – it can be seen as a commentary on its recent assault on the Gaza Strip, a war that, despite its widespread support, still leaves many Israelis with a deep sense of unease.
The idea behind the film is sound, but it falters in its depiction. That the Lebanon War, as the 1982 invasion is known, was a failure is now widely accepted. But it was not at the time. The long occupation, and the emergence of a powerful resistance movement, eventually sapped Israeli morale, leading to Israel’s ignoble exit in 2000.
The self-examination of Israeli military power and the moral and ethical questions it raises are welcome.
But two Israeli films do it better. The animated classic Waltz with Bashir, and Beaufort, a film marking the final days of the occupation, provide the best depictions of the invasion.
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