This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"Lebanon," written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz, is an immersive war-movie experience like "The Hurt Locker," but turned inside out. Or, perhaps more accurately, outside in. Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning combat picture propels us out into the open with an American bomb squad in Iraq — surrounded from every angle by gazing eyes, cameras and telescopes. Maoz's film, winner of the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, shuts us into a tank with an Israeli crew on a mission in Lebanon for virtually its entire running time.
So the sensations of overheated overexposure the audience shares with the characters in "The Hurt Locker" are replaced by a sweltering claustrophobia in "Lebanon." Both movies are stylistically experimental films of a sort: At one extreme, there are Bigelow's rapid-fire, multi-camera orchestrations of light and space and distance; at the other, Maoz's compression of desert warfare into the confines of a single dark metal box.
With the exception of three shots — the opening and two closing images — everything we see is inside, or from inside, the tank. Because we're at such close quarters, the main characters — a commander, a gunner, a loader and a driver — never appear whole within the frame, only as dismembered figures: faces, heads, torsos, legs, feet. There's not enough room in this cramped mechanical compartment for entire human beings.
What's happening in the world outside is gleaned only through the blinkered perspective of a scope marked with crosshairs, enhanced when necessary by night-vision technology. Occasionally, this point of view shifts into a more psychologically subjective telephoto view (signaled by a metallic thunk on the soundtrack), almost as if an optometrist had flipped to another lens, bringing a piece of your vision into sharper focus. What the men see and hear out there is horrific.