Reviewed by: Susanna Krawczyk

Chronicling the last Israeli soldiers to hold the ancient stronghold known as Beaufort in Lebanon before the pulling out of the Israeli army from Lebanon in 2000, this is a movie based on the novel “Im Yesh Gan Eden” by Ron Leshem. Beaufort itself is a 12th century castle on a Lebanese mountainside that for years has been a potent symbol of conquest. Control of the stronghold – by the events of 2000, added to extensively in the shape of a vast labyrinth of concrete tunnels and bunkers – has long been seen as an important part of any ruler or invader’s hold on the country.

A group of young soldiers, many of them serving their mandatory National Service period, is holed up in the tunnels, waiting for the orders to retreat with the rest of the army. Their leader Liraz (Oshri Cohen) is painfully aware of both their precarious position and the fact that they are in that position for symbolic reasons only. Daily they are bombarded with shells and the odd anti-tank missile, and the men grow increasingly fractious and angry as their number is reduced by the barrage. They are to be the last out to show the Lebanese that the Israeli retreat is not that of a cowed enemy, but they are paying for this propaganda with their lives.

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A tense atmosphere pervades; long silences and tense moments punctuated by explosions so unexpected and shocking that it is easy to imagine how much worse the real thing must be. Every soldier has a personality and a life. They talk of their girlfriends and their kids, and what they’re going to do when they get home. Yes, it’s a war-movie cliché but it’s no less effective for that. The cast put in an excellent performance and manage to be distinct in a film where uniforms, dirt and camouflage face paint make it difficult to tell men apart.

Director Joseph Cedar was stationed in Lebanon during the first Lebanon War and so is perfectly placed to document the privations and dangers of such a situation, and the bleak, claustrophobic feel of the movie is a testament to his awareness of the nature of the futile enterprise the soldiers are embroiled in. He has made an emotional movie, dealing with the soldiers’ hatred of their concrete prison and its laughably unsafe position as well as their inescapable affection for the place. Like many people forced to live their lives in an inhospitable place they become fond of Beaufort even as they deride it. Liraz especially once held the stronghold in high esteem; a place of honour and glory that slowly decays to an embarrassment and an affront to the dignity of human life. While he tries to do his best for his men, the ludicrous nature of his situation is eking away his pride and sanity.

All in all an interesting movie telling a simple story that nonetheless captures the realities of a futile attempt to hold onto national pride at the expense of human lives.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2007
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A look at the lives of Israeli soldiers serving in Lebanon at the end of the 20th century.
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Director: Joseph Cedar

Writer: Joseph Cedar, based on the novel by Ron Leshem

Starring: Alon Abutbul, Eli Altonio, Daniel Brook, Oshri Cohen, Gal Friedman, Nevo Kimchi

Year: 2007

Runtime: 125 minutes

Country: Israel


EIFF 2007

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