TIFF 2009 Cheat: Lebanon
(All entries with the heading of ‘TIFF Cheat’ indicate selections from said festival that I couldn’t watch during the festival’s run.)
Lebanon can be separated into two parts. The body of the film is when we see the film through the eyes of young gunner Shmulik, the new addition to the now team of four young Israeli troops in a tank nicknamed Rhino. The other team members are Asi the irrational commander, Hersel the trash talking loader and Yigal the driver, an only child with elderly parents.
In Shmulik’s job, he has two options – to kill and cry about it later or not to kill. He does both and fails, either action leading to the deaths of those they’re attacking either from his hands for someone else wearing his uniform. The other men in his team accuse him of shooting or not shooting at the wrong times, and they’re arguably right.
He says he’s tense. He quivers at the sight of destruction left from the day before, and in his defense, he has to look at the destruction caused the day before and he sometimes gets the feeling that the people and animals he’s looking at, alive or dead, look back at him and know his presence inside the tank. The Air Force has attacked a Lebanese town the day before, and the tank’s job is to ‘clean up’ the town. Gamil tells the crew that the clean-up is swift and easy, a promise that, the audience knows, is not kept. Shmulik’s periscopes close-up to disturbed copies of Christian oil paintings that used to hang in people’s homes, followed of course by a woman who lost her daughter, stripped because of a fire in her dress.
In the final act of the film, Shmulik doesn’t share the point of view of the movie, the camera instead is shaking because of a Syrian attack. There’s less light than the earlier parts of the film. The camera closes up on the four young men and their different reactions and futures.
In general, the film hints at the different fates of these men too easily. But with that we also get the most TMI story of a father’s death, a strange act of kindness, and survival with a subtle deus ex-machina. A solid multi-character study all around.
- ‘Lebanon’: Experiencing the horrors of war, from the inside of a tank (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Lebanon: Seeking truth from inside a steel prison (thestar.com)
TIFF: The Debt
A remake of an obscure Israeli film, John Madden‘s new film, The Debt, starts in 1965 with Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), David (Sam Worthington) and Stefan (Marton Csokas) being congratulated for killing a Dr. Vogel, the Surgeon of Birkenau, a composite of three real Nazi leaders. These perfect-looking Mossad agents carry their celebrity spy status thirty years later. Rachel’s daughter writes a book about them, unfortunately only Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) survive, and elder Rachel comfortably makes the people think the story ends there.
What proceeds and dominates the film are both a flashback and a solid balancing act. Rachel’s the new girl in the field, David welcomes her as his wife, the three learn martial arts and live and eat with each other, cabin fever included. Chastain is the heart of her section of the film. Worthington portrays a multi-faceted David, loving fake husband, butt kicker, wounded soul. Csokas is a believable group leader without trying to mug for the camera. We also see great glimpses of Vogel (Jasper Christensen), who conveys empathy despite being an irredeemable monster.
We forward to the older, bitter versions of Rachel and Stefan, and both learn that they must correct their big mistakes in the mission in different ways. The willing suspension of disbelief is slightly lifted since the elder and younger versions of the characters are never perfectly in sync. Comparisons with Boys of Brazil will be inevitable. I gave it a 4/5, but yes, I was being too nice.