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Film Review


Few films about war have become classics, and those that have contain a realism and a truth that is very difficult to depict on the screen.  Beaufort, the Israeli submission for best foreign film, is one of those films.  It tells the story of the last few days of the 2000 war in Lebanon, looking at a small Israeli unit holding a key position, Beaufort, as rumors spread that they are about to withdraw.  Beaufort is an 11th century Crusader castle on a key mountaintop in Southern Lebanon, taken with heavy casualties in the early days of the war (1980) and held for 18 years, until the Israeli army pulled out in 2000. The position supposedly had great military and political significance, but questioned even then, and still the topic of much debate in Israel today. In fact the 1982 invasion of Lebanon was highly controversial, then and now, and seems to have been the Israeli equivalent of our Iraq War: poorly planned, poorly executed, and for still questionable reasons.  And deeply unpopular.

The film Beaufort was taken from an Israeli novel by Ron Leshem, who also did the screenplay, and directed by Ron Cedar, both Israeli Army (IDF) veterans.  It looks at the small, isolated unit that holds Beaufort as an observation post, but mostly is the target of frequent Hezbollah shelling and rockets.  They spend most of their time in claustrophobic concrete bunkers, and manning the observation posts.  The bunkers themselves are deep and largely immune to fire, but the observation posts are vulnerable to rockets and open areas to mortars. The unit, platoon sized, is led by Liraz, who became an officer after months of begging his commanding officer to send him to officer's training school. He's tough, loves his men, is convinced that Beaufort is essential, but makes several bad mistakes, and at a key moment, freezes.  His men are weary, frightened yet brave, conflicted about the war, and want to leave. They are cynical and sarcastic, convinced that they are being used as pawns by politicians and generals.  There is a constant background of incoming fire, announced by a speaker giving a few seconds warning, "incoming, incoming". Then, although unnecessary, the speaker says "impact, impact" after each detonation. It becomes like a Greek chorus.  Beaufort depicts a truth about war: that men endure and do brave things for their buddies, not for patriotism.

Their supply road has been temporarily blocked by a suspected roadside bomb, and a bomb expert is helicoptered in to disarm and recover it for study.  The scene of the newly arrived man, trying to find his way through the labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers is like something out of a science fiction film, especially with their peculiar uniforms and covers. And the following scenes of him dealing with the bomb are among the most tense that I have ever experienced in a film.  This tension continues throughout entire film, with no left up, just as it does for the men. Eventually most of the men talk about themselves, and there is a very memorable scene where some are gathering at a beautiful overlook promising to always remember each other. Rumors fly that the position will soon be abandoned, and the men are furious that the cabinet is debating while they are dying.  I don't want to reveal more, but the story is complex.

The acting simply does not seem like acting; there are no weak performances whatsoever. And there is a realism here that American directors could learn much from.  This film is so powerful because it is so truthful, and deserves to be seen widely. Beaufort is a masterpiece of film making and its message and images are unforgettable. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Playing at the Lumiere.  

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