Much of Samuel Maoz's directorial debut Lebanon we experience through the cross-hairs of a tank gun-sight. Though the setting is Lebanon on the first day of the Israeli invasion (June 6, 1982), Maoz at one point puts the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the World Trade Center in the cross-hairs, by way of posters in a bombed-out travel agency. The global interventionist governments the towers of power literally stood for come to mind, as does the ironic saw "Join the Army, travel the world, meet interesting people—and kill them!" Of course, the Israel Defense Forces' draft eliminates any need to advertise.
Maoz's script derives from his own experiences as a tank gunner at the very outset of the Lebanon War, a past that has remained ever-present to him (Maoz insists that five pieces of shrapnel embedded in his leg for a quarter-century worked their way out during the first week of the shoot). The very personal tale gets a highly subjective treatment in what can only be described as a fearless, heroic act of filmmaking. The constituent elements of Lebanon are blood, sweat and oil, and the only thing worse than the dark, hellish, odorous claustrophobia of the tank's innards is the tunnel vision afforded by the gun-sight: a view to kill after kill, horror after horror (including, as ever, appalling collateral damage to innocent civilians). The members of the tank crew—commander Assi (Itay Tiran), driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov), gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat), and loader Herzl (Oshri Cohen)—are programmed to do as they're told: questions are actively discouraged by superiors, and masculine pride does its part in leading the men away from rationality. As the stress factors compound for the tank crew, their attendant unit of paratroopers, and a Syrian POW they collect, madness may be the only sane response.
Clearly, the slogan emblazoned on the tank—"Man is steel. The tank is only iron"—is propaganda that's just asking to be disproved over the film's ninety minutes. Maoz's unrelenting nightmare vision is all but torturously unbearable in its attempt to be the ultimate reading of the phrase "war is hell." But if Lebanon is punishing, it is also technically proficient in its gritty work and sharp in its verbal and visual imagery, whether it be the voyeuristic audience implication of the tank P.O.V. (much more of this and will our own trigger fingers get itchy?), the tank's appearance in a field of dropping sunflowers, a superior's admonition to clean up the tank ("You can't run a war in this mess") or the radio code for the loss of a colleague ("I've got an angel"). Maoz's pure-cinema catharsis serves to put us in the shit as well, issuing a potent reminder of what citizen soldiers do on our behalf; there's plenty of trauma to go around.
Sony delivers Lebanon to Blu-ray in a fine hi-def transfer that shares disc space with a well-made behind-the-scenes featurette. The image quality is excellent, with particularly crucial black-level sharpness and shadow detail, accurate hues, and gritty textures (including the palpable grain that comes with the film source); digital artifacts are nowhere to be spotted. Making the film's hellish effect even worse—and therefore better—is a flawless , lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that brings every aural nuance of war ambiance into the home theater, while also packing a wallop when the big guns literally come out.
The disc's primary extra is "Notes on a War Film" (24:24, SD). Like many European featurettes, this one skews to unadorned B-roll set footage, though we also get some on-the-fly interviews with Maoz and his cast and crew. The footage gives a good sense of how the film's war recreations were staged, and includes reflections on the intentions of the filmmakers and the impact the process had on them.
Along with a handful of promotional previews for Sony titles, we get Lebanon's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:12, HD) and BD-Live accessibility.
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