In June 1982 Samuel Maoz, then 20 years old, found himself called up for active service. Israel was invading Lebanon and Maoz, trained as a gunner, was assigned to a tank crew.
During the conflict he sustained only minor injuries, and returned home where his mother embraced him, weeping and thanking God that her son was safe and sound.
“She did not realise,” Maoz mornfully notes, “that I did not come home safe and sound. In fact I did not come home at all. She had no idea that her son had died in Lebanon and that she was now embracing an empty shell.”
It took 25 years for Maoz to face the horror of his memories and turn them into a script. The result, his debut feature as writer/director, is one of the grimmest, most visceral war films of recent memory.
Forget heroics, forget glory – this is war as fear and stench and panic. Barring the opening and closing shots, we’re trapped inside the claustrophobic metal sweatbox of the tank right through the film.
Four young men – Shmulik the gunner (Maoz’s surrogate, played by Yoav Donat), Asi the commander (Itay Tiran), insecurely pulling rank, the bolshy Herzel (Oshri Cohen), the twitchy Yigal (Michael Moshonov) – crammed in together, deafened by relentless noise, desperately peering through the gunsight to work out where they are, where they should be going, where the next danger’s coming from.
Occasional intrusions from outside – the platoon captain barking orders or dumping in a Syrian prisoner – only add to the tank crew’s confusion. Maoz doesn’t take sides – most of the Lebanese we see are helpless civilian victims. But then, the four young Israeli conscripts are surely victims too.
Without preaching, Maoz presents us with a taut, gut-knotting demonstration of the sordid brutality of war.
His film picked up the 2009 Golden Lion at Venice – deservedly so.
In the tradition of Kippur and Waltz With Bashir, an Israeli film that skips patriotism and politics to show us war as seen by four terrified young guys in a tank. Powerful, compelling, scary.