Lebanon: Israel’s War Film Wins Top Venice Fest Prize

Samuel Maoz’s “Lebanon” has just won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the 2009 Venice Film Fest (which closed last night). The movie plays at Toronto Fest this week and in late September at the N.Y. Film Fest.
For Israel’s first-time writer-director Samuel Maoz, the making of the war film “Lebanon” may have literally saved his life, while the events that inspired its premise, occurring almost twenty-five years before, almost destroyed him.
The tale is set in June 1982, when four young Israeli soldiers are assigned to operate a single tank. Their first mission is to enter a civilian Lebanese village to clear it of possible PLO terrorists. However, something goes horribly wrong, and the ensuing panic leads to miscommunication, death, destruction, and hostages. All hell breaks loose around these young men as they face the perennial military question: kill or be killed? None of these men are heroes, none of them eager to kill or die themselves.
Immediate and based on direct experience, “Lebanon” a highly sensual film. It’s also intensely claustrophobic: The majority of the action takes place inside the tank, a hot, sweaty, rusted-out place, marked by the odors of men at war and the surrounding culture of fear.
Yoav Donat plays Maoz as a young gunner. Maoz is supported by a cast of Israel’s finest up-and-coming young actors. He shows us war through the eyes of Yigal (Michael Moshonov, also starring in “Bena” at the Festival this year), Gamil (Zohar Strauss of “Kirot” and “Eyes Wide Open,” both screening at the Festival) and Asi (Itay Tiran of “Beaufort”).
Maoz was a 20-year-old novice soldier in the initial days of the first Lebanon war. Traumatized by his time in combat, he for years manifested his distress as outbursts of anger and long stretches of depression. It wasn’t until 2007 that he felt there might be something to gain, both for himself and others, from creating a fictionalized version of his experiences.
Striking, poignant and touching, “Lebanon” joins a growing body of great films from the last few years, including “Beaufort” (2007) and the Oscar nominee “Waltz with Bashir” (2008), in which a particular generation of Israeli soldiers look for a way to bare their souls, voice their angry questions and search for a fitful peace. By braving his own “heart of darkness,” Maoz has created a film that poses ground-level questions about war and how obtuse our societies are to assume there will be no repercussions for the young people we ask to wage it.
About the director
Samuel Maoz was born in Tel Aviv, where he studied cinematography at the Beit-Tzvi Film School. He has worked as a production designer in film and television, and has also directed documentaries, television series and theatre productions. “Lebanon” is his first feature film.
Production Company: Metro Communications/Ariel Films & German Co-Producer: Ariel Films
Producer: David Silber, Ilann Girard, Benjamina Mirnik
Screenplay: Samuel Maoz
Cinematographer: Giora Bejach
Editor: Arik Lahav-Leibovich
Production Designer: Ariel Roshko
Sound: Alex Claude
Music: Nicolas Becker
Runtime: 94 minutes
Yoav Donat
Itay Tiran
Oshri Cohen
Michael Moshonov
Zohar Strauss