Claustrophobia takes on a whole new, terrifying dimension when told from the point of view of soldiers in a tank. Writer-director Samuel Maoz' starkly personal portrait of the 1982 First Lebanon War is a searing, nerve-snapping experience, as Maoz locks his audience inside the dank, green-hued tank, where the only view to the outside world is through the gunner's scope. It’s a striking conceit, made more visceral by its reflection through the eyes of first time gunner Shmuel (Yoav Donat). Joining tank commander Assi (Itay Tiran), Yigal (Michael Moshonov) the driver and the outspoken loader Herzl (Oshri Cohen), Shmuel is quite literally driven into the line of fire and forced to make a series of harrowing decisions.
Maoz' screenplay is sparse, and in limiting the camera to the confines of the tank or juddering eye of the periscope, Lebanon at times almost feels like a nightmarish computer game. But fantasy this most certainly is not, as Maoz has emphatically described the process of making this film as the catharsis that brought him back to life. Impressive then, that Lebanon stays so consistently taut and willfully confounding, as the human cost of war reverberates around the tank's armoured walls. Slightly overplayed, however, are the 'fourth wall' breaks, as Maoz has a series of characters look to camera, all compellingly framed within Shmuel’s crosshairs.
If rattling around Kathryn Bigelow's hurt locker wasn't quite lean and mean enough, then Lebanon is sure to impress. Forgiven for some sentimental strokes, Maoz has produced an unforgettable piece of cinema; a haunting experience that doubles as the document that — 24 years on — finally laid the filmmaker's ghosts to rest.
Australian release date: 2 December 2010