Set on the first day of the Lebanon War in June 1982, Lebanon: The Soldier’s Journey depicts the experiences of a group of four young men who form part of a platoon sent to search a town that has been decimated by the Israeli air force.
What starts off as a simple mission soon turns out to be a nightmare, as they’re trapped in hostile territory with seemingly no escape. Not knowing exactly what’s happening, where the threat is coming from, or who to trust, the young soldiers must find a way to escape the hellish situation alive.
Written and directed by Samuel Maoz and based on his own experiences, this is clearly an incredibly personal film. What’s also apparent is Maoz’s talent as a director.
The film opens and closes with two incredibly striking shots of a field of sunflowers. (I don’t feel that mentioning the closing shot is delving into spoiler territory, as this image is on the back of the DVD case and doesn’t impact the narrative.) The first scene lingers on the unspoiled field showing a scene of tranquillity that is not experienced again through the relentless 90 minute runtime.
From the moment the young men are together in a tank, the film gets very brutal, very quickly. No punches are pulled in depicting the horrors of war and the way you experience this, through the eyes of the protagonists, is very effective.
For the most part, you see what those in the tank would see, so the majority of the external shots are viewed through the crosshairs of the targeting system or the night vision scope. The way this method is utilised is incredibly effective, adding a sense of disorientation and uncertainty as to what you will see when the scope pans and zooms.
The view from inside the tank is also incredibly claustrophobic. There’s a real sense of heat and lack of privacy as the men swelter under the high temperatures, suffer from lack of air, and have to relieve themselves whilst they’re inches away from their fellow soldiers.
At no point in the film does the camera work seem gimmicky. If anything, it adds to the immersive nature of the film and puts you in the shoes of those inside the tank as much as is possible. It’s a refreshing perspective, as I haven’t seen a film utilise these methods to this extent. It’s also an incredibly effective tool to get the viewer invested in the fates of the protagonists, as you’re experiencing the unfolding war via their experiences and the confusion and uncertainty that goes along with it.
For the most part, the film doesn’t play out like a typical war film. In many ways it shares more in common with horror films, with its strong sense of isolation and fear of the unknown underpinning much of the piece.
There’s an incredibly subtle score that accompanies the film that, although at times seems at odds with the material seen on screen, is effective nonetheless. There’s one particular moment where the delicate subtlety heard throughout most of the film makes way for distorted madness, and really enhances the scene.
As much praise as I’ve lavished on the film above, it’s not without its faults. The cover is adorned with hyperbole claiming that it’s a better film than both Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker. Sadly, neither is true. The aforementioned films benefit from a greater budget, although that’s not the reason why they’re superior.
Where they outshine Lebanon: The Soldier’s Journey is through their build of tension. Although there are tense moments here, it doesn’t reach the levels seen in either of the two films it’s been compared to. I recognise that this is no fault of the film or the filmmaker. However, it’s worth pointing out in terms of balance.
Ultimately, though, I would definitely recommend Lebanon: The Soldier’s Journey. It’s a compelling and very well made film that, whilst isn’t without faults, is an incredibly immersive piece of work that seems as close to reality as a film of this ilk is likely to achieve.
The film comes with a digital copy as well as access to some exclusive online content. The online content available at this point is access to the trailer (which is also available on the DVD itself), and three screensavers.
Of the most interest here is the feature length commentary by Maoz, As mentioned, the film is based on his own experiences, so this is an incredibly insightful track that enhances the enjoyment of the film as a whole. Certainly one of the better commentaries I’ve sat through recently.
The film benefits from an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix and is best enjoyed with this turned up to add to the immersive nature.
Also included is a Background To The First Lebanon War, which is a text-based feature that provides a timeline of the events leading up to war depicted in the film, and Views From The Frontline, which is another text-based feature where Maoz and various members of the production team and actors discuss their experiences of the conflict and making the film.
Film: Disc: Lebanon: The Soldier’s Journey is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.