(director/writer: Samuel Maoz; cinematographer: Giora Bejach; editor: Arik Lahav-Leibovich; music: Nicolas Becker; cast: Yoav Donat (Shmulik), Itay Tiran (Assi), Oshri Cohen (Hertzel), Michael Moshonov (Yigal), Zohar Strauss (Jamil), Dudu Tassa (Syrian Captive), Ashraf Barhom (Phalangist Mother), Reymonde Amsellem (Lebanese Mother); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Uri Sabag/Einat Bikel/Moshe Edery/ Leon Edery/David Silber/Benjamina Mirnik/Ilann Girard; Sony Picture Classics; 2009-Israel/France/Germany/UK-in Hebrew and Arabic-with English subtitles)
An impressive claustrophobic and frightful depiction of war’s insanity.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Samuel Maoz’s first feature is an impressive claustrophobic and frightful depiction of war’s insanity, a film made by a traumatized veteran of the Lebanon war who was part of a tank crew made up of apolitical and scared conscripts who only wanted to go home and did not understand why they were fighting. Maoz restages his traumatic mission from theFirst Lebanon War – June, 1982, Israel’s fifth and most disputed war since the country’s beginning in 1948. The pic emulates the claustrophobia of the West German submarine pic Das Boot (1981) and is filmed in the no-nonsense way Sam Fuller filmed his beloved grunts in action. It’s set during a 24-hour period, and filmed almost entirely inside an Israeli tank heading north on the war’s first day. The mission has a lone tank and 12 paratroopers on the ground dispatched to search in a mop up action a hostile Lebanese town that has already been bombarded by the Israeli Air Force. The IDF soldiers in the tank are four inexperienced argumentative twentysomethings: Shmulik the gunner (Yoav Dona), Assi the commander (Itay Tiran), Hertzel the loader (Oshri Cohen) and Yigal the driver (Michael Moshonov). Their direct commander is a major, Jamil (Zohar Strauss), an experienced veteran giving orders by radio to the tank and when necessary entering the tank to clear-up any problems. The tank is given the code name Rhino.

The trembling gunner, representing the filmmaker, can’t pull the trigger on a car full of enemies, and an Israeli paratrooper dies as a result. A few moments later, the guilt-stricken gunner accidentally fires at an innocent farmer and his truck full of chickens. The dead Israeli soldier, called an angel, is placed in the tank and in their next urban destination is returned home by helicopter. Jamil then orders the tank to go north to a place given the fictionalized name of St. -Tropez and tells the boys it’s ‘a walk in the park’ from hereon. Awaiting further orders in the center of an unnamed town, stopping by a travel agency with posters of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the World Trade Center, the tank crew become anxious when their tank is fired upon by the enemy. After the battle the inept driver not knowing how to read the dials, thinks the tank is dead and panics. Jamil has to show him how to start it, as the tank crew also panics–afraid of being left behind. Also, a captured Syrian prisoner is placed in the tank. Jamil allows a Phalangist, Israel’s war ally, to interview the prisoner and have the two Phalangists act as a guide for the tank as they drive a car ahead to their final destination. But the thuggish Phalangist proves to be unreliable. He agitates the captive by telling him they aim to torture him when he’s released from the tank, and the Syrian goes berserk before drugged. Later the tank is lost and stuck in a hostile urban zone, but is ordered out of that spot to push on to the rendezvous destination and does so blindly on its own (with the tank a metaphor for Israel). The most controversial part of the film, especially for Israelis, is the breakdown by Yigal, who openly bawls and says “I want to go home. I want my mom.”

It won the Golden Lion at Venice. Though lacking in dramatic qualities, its haunting war images as seen through the cross-hairs of the gunner’s bomb-sight leaves behind a clear vision that war promotes killing machines. It serves as a reminder that war is not a pretty sight and puts everyone to the test of acting human at a time of grave danger and chaos.