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The Auteurs Daily: Venice, Toronto and NYFF. Lebanon


The Auteurs DailyLebanon

"Visceral, torn-from-the-memory filmmaking that packs every punch except one to the heart, Lebanon is the boldest and best of the recent mini-wave of Israeli pics (BeaufortWaltz With Bashir) set during conflicts between the two countries," writes Derek Elley in Variety. "Ironically, writer-director Samuel Maoz's pic, 99.9% of which is set within an Israeli tank, actually has the least to do with Lebanon per se. The story could be set in any tank, any country, any war - a cinematic Kammerspiel that's as much a formal challenge for its creator as it is a claustrophobic experience for audiences."

"Set for a place of honour in world festivals and specialised art cinemas, Lebanon was an unusually long time in the making due to problems securing investment and the technical challenges of shooting an entire film inside a tank," notes Dan Fainaru in Screen. "It features some of Israel's brightest young talents, covered in sweat and grime for the most part, convincingly reenacting some of the worst moments of Maoz's life - possibly not in exact detail, but how he remembers them now."

"This must qualify as one of the most anti-heroic war movies ever made," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter; "not a single character can stomach battle or shows the slightest courage towards his comrades, making mockery of a plaque that extols: 'Man is steel. A tank is only iron.'"

Guy Lodge at In Contention: "We never learn enough about the principals to really invest in their despair, making the film less rewarding as storytelling than as sensory study, but the significant applause at the end of the screening was testament to its no-frills power."

Online viewing tip. Newspusher has a clip from the press conference.

Screens in Toronto on September 14, 15 and 16.

Update, 9/11: "This is a film above all about what it is like to take part in combat, though it does not shrink from showing an appalling number of civilian casualties," writes Roderick Conway Morris for the New York Times. "Like the vast majority of all who have fought in wars through the ages, the conscript tank crew have no time to consider the rights and wrongs of this particular conflict but are simply trying to survive.... he audacious and unpredictable way Lebanon tells its story will give future filmmakers much to think about when trying to depict the realities of war on screen."

Update, 9/20: "Imprisoning the audience with the soldiers may be a gimmick, but it's an inspired one," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "Working as a horrors-of-war screed and a depiction of men under impossible stress, Lebanon is a salutary, unrelentingly claustrophobic nightmare."

Update, 9/25: Maoz "is well out of his depth here, in terms of both dramaturgy and mise-en-scène," argues Mike D'Angelo at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "That his characters are one-dimensional and his dialogue purely functional isn't necessarily a deal-killer - the same is largely true of Kathryn Bigelow's fine The Hurt Locker, for example. But Bigelow, a consummate action director, understands how to make a film's very texture and rhythm emotionally expressive, thereby allowing her actors to get away with doing very little. Maoz, on the other hand, looks as if he'd be more at home directing black-box theater."

Update, 9/27: "[D]espite its cinematographic immediacy, generated via cramped compositions that ooze anxiety, Lebanon - unlike the similar visceral-impact vehicle The Hurt Locker - doesn't have a multifaceted or unique characterization to offer," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "[O]ne hardly need endure Maoz's film to comprehend that war is hell, that the young are ill-equipped for combat's madness, and that life inside a tank can be bumpy, claustrophobic, rancid, and frightening."

Update, 9/29: "Lebanon is a good old-fashioned Sam Fuller war picture, all capital letters and tight close-ups," argues Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "There is not one narrative surprise in it, and it doesn't need any."

Updates, 10/1: "This is one hell of a film, the best Israeli film I've seen so far this year," writes Schlomo Porat, who also interviews Maoz.

"If you're a fan of intense military parables, you won't want to miss das boot on this one," quips Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

Online listening tip. The Film Talk.

Update, 10/2: "The film is a minefield of on-the-nose 'messages' about the horror and absurdity of war," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot. "A shady deal between Israeli soldiers and Muslim-hating Phalangists is struck in front of a gigantic poster of the World Trade Center; Shmulik deflates a conversation about death by telling a Saving Private Ryan–esque anecdote of hormonal adolescent hi-jinks involving his father's passing and a consoling but arousing schoolteacher; a soldier who asks his CO to telephone his mother to tell her he's okay meets a predictably ironic fate at film's conclusion."

"Taken as an attempt at you-are-there immediacy, this is cheesy and stilted, as the script traces a familiar path through the confusion of war," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "But watched as a willfully contrived sensory experience, Lebanon accrues a certain power."

Update, 10/3: "Maoz inverts the received idea of moviemaking as war, suggesting that war is an outsized, horrendous brand of filmmaking that offers no cathartic release." Patrick Z McGavin admires this "remarkable debut feature."

Update, 10/4: Joanna Chen in Newsweek on Lebanon and Ajami: "Both films are powerful examples of Israeli cinema's emergence as one of the country's most vibrant engines of introspection and moral commentary."

Updates, 10/7: Stephen Snart at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Culpability in relation to the power structure of combat may be the film's only major talking point (beyond the novelty of its tank setting), but at least it's an endlessly discussable one."

"The film is in many ways so indistinguishable from Beaufort, an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film in 2008, that one constantly wonders what the Venice jury headed by Ang Lee saw in Mr Maoz's film that made it so special," writes Martin Tsai in the Critic's Notebook.

Update, 10/13: S James Snyder talks with Moaz for the L Magazine.

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.


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