Dec 6, 2008


This impressive Israeli film by Joseph Cedar is a fine war movie and I think a strong indictment of the status quo in Israel, where everybody is a soldier and the State seems to think there is an endless supply of young people willing to sacrifice for their country, no matter what. Except that in some situations, like the recent Lebanon invasion, it's not clear what they are doing it for, or if it is worth it. This is the first time I see Israeli soldiers complaining that they are treated like cannon fodder. After all, Everybody, men and women, is a soldier in Israel and Israel needs an Army to defend itself from its neighbors, not from distant enemies. It has not seen peace since it was born, so to see soldiers questioning their raison d'etre is extremely powerful.
There is an amazing speech in the movie, given on TV by the father of a dead soldier, in which he says he doesn't hold the Army responsible for the death of his son. He feels responsible because as a father, he should not have let the boy out of his sight. He should have protected his children. In essence, this is one of the most moving, powerful indictments of Israel's defense predicament I have seen. The country is putting its children in harm's way and it is not clear anymore that there is a good reason for it.
Beaufort is not a conventional war movie in that there are really no battles, there is little violence, but when it comes, it's brutal. A group of Israeli soldiers is stuck on top of a mountain in Lebanon with an ancient fort from the time of the Crusades. They have built their own state of the art fort next door, and keep adding cement to protet themselves. They are getting shelled by mortars and missiles from Hezbollah, trapped by so many mines they can't get out. Holding the fort, literally. They are in some sort of limbo, waiting for the government to give the order to evacuate southern Lebanon, after intense pressure by public opinion. And we see their days of waiting, their bittersweet camaraderie, their huge stretches of boredom punctuated by explosions they are almost blasé about until they really start striking the targets and some of them are killed. They feel isolated and forgotten, and they are.
Some of them bristle and revolt, others are gripped by fear. It is a claustrophobic, intense film, but told with a certain philosophical gentleness, and with flashes of cinematic poetry, of the dry, unadorned kind, yet it is very suspenseful. Their young commander, Liraz, (an amazing performance by Oshri Cohen), seems arrogant and distant from his men. He is brash and almost reckless and in the course of events, he behaves both heroically and cowardly. Human, flawed and the lives of his men depend on him. He makes mistakes that cost people's lives. But he is relentless. He doesn't want to retreat and abandon Beaufort, even as his soldiers are relieved and happy about going home. He is a proud and stubborn fighter and he doesn't always make sense. I'm still trying to figure him out.
At the end of the film, we see him crossing the border into Israel. He starts peeling away all the military gear that covers him and protects him, making him some sort of superman. He takes layer after layer off, like an onion, until in his fatigues he suddenly looks much smaller and frailer. And then he falls on his knees and cries his heart out.
The whole movie is like an extended metaphor for Israel's situation. Holding the fort, using might, making enormous human sacrifices, cut off from the rest of the world. The fight seems futile, tired and absurd. The film does not show the enemy or Israel's treatment of it. Its revolt is quiet but deep. It goes deep into motives, and into the question of the state's existence. Is this how Israel is going to live always? Isolated from a normal life, always fighting, always eating its young?
I am haunted by this film.

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