Even though usually I’m a total sucker for conceptual genre-bending, Samuel Maoz’s much-praised Lebanon (2009) rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed aesthetically fake, if not wrong-headed. The high-concept here is that the camera doesn’t leave the inside of an Israeli tank during its mission in Lebanon in mid-1982. Had this rule been followed avidly, the result might have become fascinating. Unfortunately, Maoz is set on having his cake and eating it, too. The camera doesn’t leave the tank, all right, but the tank’s periscope is in constant use and boy, these soldiers would make for a great team of DPs! Framing and camera movement in the long periscope-p.o.v. scenes are so clear and focused, so centered, so little obstructions get in their way, they might as well have been shot from the outside. There is no restraint to this movie’s visuals other than the constant mechanical whizzing of the periscope each time it slides this way and that. All minutiae facial expressions are picked up, all found symbols on full display.
Another problem is the stereotypical presentation of the conflicts within the male group, as well as the hopelessly cliché-ridden moments of buddy-truth. All this is buried under tons of seeming formal restraint and experiential intensity, which in the end proves nothing more than a cover-up for obvious sentimental pulls and banal statements about war’s violation of human dignity.