Samuel Maoz’s claustrophobic war drama, which picked up the Golden Lion prize at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, is decidedly a case of the emperor’s new clothes — a forcedly subjective movie that takes the complexities and moral grayness of war and reduces it to empty melodrama cloaked in air-quote artfulness.
Based on Maoz’s personal experience serving in the Israeli army during the 1982 war of the same name, Lebanon takes place inside a tank during the first 24 hours of the invasion, as an inexperienced crew pushes nervously into a fire zone. There’s some initial imaginativeness to the film’s cinematography — unfolding through the tank’s crosshairs, with all its jerkiness and zooms — but this tack rather quickly becomes grating, and overall seems like a gambit to avoid taking responsibility for choices of framing.
A big part of the problem is that Maoz’s film is populated with characters so ineffectual as to undermine any cultivated sense of bother for or investment in their predicament. More problematically, Lebanon is riddled with falsely struck notes regardless of the subjects’ character and mettle. It’s wildly inconceivable, for instance, that once a Syrian who has fired a RPG at the group is captured and placed in the tank for transport, no one within has a problem with him, or indeed even seems concerned with interacting with him, one way or another. In introducing the potential for tension, only to fumble it away in ways equally unrealistic and infuriating, Lebanon proves itself resolutely incapable of adding anything new to the old adage, “War is hell.” (Sony Pictures Classics, R, 92 minutes)