It's part of a run of late-2000s films about Israel's conflicts with Lebanon, after Waltz with Bashir
(2007) and Beaufort (2008). They're not the only films on this theme, e.g. Cup Final, but this 2000s wave of them is significant for its timing, after Israel's Second Lebanon War in 2006.
So far of these I've seen this and Waltz with Bashir
. Both films are fictionalised autobiographies told from an Israeli point of view, but they're not exactly positive about their experiences.
It's set in a tank. It's bookended by three shots that aren't, featuring sunflowers, but basically it's a film in a tank. Imagine you're a conscript who's been shoved into this thing and told to go out and shoot people. You've had training, but you're no killer. If you shoot, people die. If you don't shoot, different people die. Your superiors want you to do things barred by international convention. One of your colleagues is openly subordinate and will argue with almost anything he's told to do. Man-management is sometimes appalling and one person in your tank might be losing his marbles.
At the beginning, these people aren't fit to do their job. The soldiers for whom they're providing back-up would be soiling their trousers if they knew what was going on in the tank.
Later on... they're still not fit to do their job, to be honest. However they at least become a little more experienced in their incompetence.
It's an intimate film. As a war movie, to be honest it's a bit rubbish. If you're hoping to see any kind of big picture, forget it. Stuff happens that we don't understand. These guys don't have a clue. They drive approximately where they're told to drive and experience varying degrees of panic and stress, then the film ends. What happened? Why are they there? Buggered if I know. Someone dies and we're a bit confused as to when and why they got injured. I'm sure this is an accurate reflection of life in the tank, but it's not particularly satisfying as drama.
It's also not as scary as I'd expected. It's unpleasant, not terrifying. There's relatively little physical danger, since after all they're in a tank. What you'll take away instead is things like the way these people can't see the outside world except through a turret scope with superimposed crosshairs. This is unnerving when we're whirr-whirring with lots of tank noises to look at friendly soldiers. It's also hot, sweaty and smelly in these, with a box of pee. Think about it. You think a tank has flushing toilets? No, I hadn't worried about that before either. Instead our heroes have a box. They take it off the shelf, do their business and then put it back. We never learn what happens when they need to defecate as well as urinate, but I'd guess that goes in the box too.
It seems like a fairly dirty war. Civilian casualties and international laws aren't seen as a problem. Admittedly we don't see the Israelis go so far as to torture prisoners, but they're friendly with people who do.
However it all comes back to the people in the tank. The film is neither a well-told story nor is it giving an overall picture of the war, but instead it earns its respect by being simple and autobiographical. In 1982, Samuel Maoz was the gunner of a four-man tank crew, as here. It took him 25 years to write a screenplay based on his experiences, because his other attempts had made him vomit. He'd remember the smell of burning flesh and so on. Thus one of the most memorable scenes has nothing to do with military events, but instead is simply someone telling an inappropriate story about what happened when his father died.
The Maoz substitute character looks a bit like Michael Keaton, by the way.
This film has a lot of fans, including Ang Lee at the Venice Film Festival, where it became the first Israeli film to win the Golden Lion. However it doesn't surprise me that Waltz with Bashir
is the one that got Oscar-nominated. That'll play better to a general audience. This one's not worrying too much about plot and it keeps its audience in the dark as to what's happening, or even as to what's just happened. It shows us no bravery or heroics. Instead it shows us uses for a tank you might not have considered (e.g. put things in it!) and shows that there are disadvantages to being in a war zone inside a big, noisy hunk of untrustworthy machinery. It helps if the thing isn't breaking down, for a start.
"Apartment is clear. Two dead terrorists and one dead girl. No casualties."