Writer-director Samuel Maoz makes a stunning feature film debut with this war drama that won the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. This personal story is based on Maoz’s own experiences as a gunner inside a tank during the first 24 hours of the First Lebanon War in which Israel invaded its northern neighbor. The movie takes place entirely within the claustrophobic interior of a tank. The limited field of vision to the outside world is through the periscopic crosshairs of the gun barrel. The viewer hears the deafening sounds and feels the rocking motion from the bumpy ride.
The four-man crew inside the armored vehicle on June 6, 1982, consists of skittish gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat), mouthy ammunition loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov) and commander Assi (Itay Tiran). The tank serves as the rear guard protector for a unit of 12 paratroopers. The major giving the orders is Jamil (Zohar Shtrauss).
Their first task is to enter a previously bombed town and make sure no enemies are left to wipe out. Jamil describes the mission as a “walk in the park.” The audience is pulled into this hellish nightmare where you don’t know what is going on or what will happen next. It is like being thrown into the deep end of a pool to sink or swim.
A terrified Lebanese mother (Reymonde Amsalem) comes out of a destroyed apartment building looking for her 5-year-old daughter. Her nightgown catches on fire and she desperately scrambles to cover her naked body. The center of town turns out to be a deathtrap under the control of Syrian commandos.
The tank takes a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade. The Syrian soldier who fired the missile is taken prisoner and tied up inside the tank. This POW is threatened in Arabic by an angry Christian Phalangist. Since the Israelis don’t speak Arabic, they don’t realize why the prisoner becomes frightened and agitated. A sense of panic takes over as Yigal has trouble starting up the engine. The tank gets fired on again with chaos and confusion reflected in the grimy faces of these scared boys.
The movie uses close-ups to focus on their eyes. The movie doesn’t shy away from describing atrocities and the horrors of war. The basic survival instinct kicks in and a “kill or be killed” mentality follows. This is the same conflict that was covered from a different angle in “Waltz with Bashir.” It does for an Israeli tank what “Das Boot” did for a German U-boat. It compares favorably with “The Hurt Locker,” “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket” and the recent documentary “Restrepo.”
This film won the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actor (Shtrauss). It was also nominated for Best Film and lost to eventual winner “Ajami,” which was one of the five Oscar finalists for Best Foreign Language Film.
Although the majority of the film is non-verbal, the scant dialogue is primarily in Hebrew with large, easy-to-read English subtitles. Those interested in Israel and the Middle East can catch this gripping film for a limited engagement exclusively at the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"