Headline, May 20 2021/ ''' THIS ''LEBANON'' FILM ''' : ISRAEL ESSAY

''' THIS ''LEBANON'' FILM ''' :


IN 2009 - AT THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL [TIFF] a group of over 1,500 people - including several notable academics, writers, filmmakers and actors - signed a letter of protest against the event organizers decision to spotlight work of 10 Israeli filmmakers.

'' TIFF whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.......... in the wake of this year's brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of an......... apartheid regime,'' the letter read.

Israel, by way of Lebanon is a war film. And it became the centre of controversy at last year's TIFF.

Looking for sympathy is an innately human tendency. We all want to be loved and perhaps more than that, we all want to be understood. In front of our peers, we want to stand vindicated. We want our pains and struggles validated, and our cations to be seen as justified.

This is perhaps why we universally love an underdog story. As we choose to relate to characters who succeed [or not] in the face of insurmountable odds, we try to frame ourselves as underdogs too. And this applies to much to us as individuals as it does to our collective identities.

There is much to be said - and much already written - about the hypocrisy some global coverage of Israel and Palestine vis-a-vis recent developments has revealed. Going through some of-the-street soundbites from Israelis, though, brought to mind a film produced a little over a decade ago.

Among the films that found itself at the centre of 2009 TIFF controversy was a war movie by the name of Lebanon. Directed by one Samuel Maoz, it was set during the 1982 Lebanon War and based on his own experience as a conscript in the Israeli Defence Forces during that conflict.

By his own admission, Maoz claimed his intention was to make an 'anti-war' film. ''I suppose every filmmaker has the naive, even pathetic dream that his film could be the one that finally stops a war,'' he told The Observer that same year his film was released.

And as intended, the film to a considerable extent succeeded in establishing those anti-war themes quite strongly. Some may even say harrowingly. Lebanon follows an Israel tank crew on day one of the 1982 war. As conscripts, the crew is very quickly established as novice, having not yet undergone a baptism of fire.

Vignettes of the aftermath the crew's initial actions are juxtaposed with close-up shots of the tank gunner's eyes, imprinting by way of the Kuleshov effect - any montage sequence in which the relationship of two adjacent shots appears to be particularly meaningful - the viewer's own shock at the raw violence of war onto the character.

As the story progresses, the tank crew finds itself isolated in the centre of Beirut, purportedly surrounded by Syrian forces [although the film refrains from giving the viewer concrete evidence of this], making a frantic beeline to some obscure rendezvous point' to the North in a desperate effort to rejoin friendly troops.

Unintentionally or not, the intended anti-war message, however, is only part of the picture Lebanon depicts.

Without a doubt, the most striking aesthetic and narrative choice Maoz made in shooting the film is to set the action, and by extension the audience's perspective, virtually entirely inside the tank. Save for two shots, symmetrically placed at the beginning and end of the film, our only window to what happens outside the tank is through the tank gunner's periscope.

This choice results in at least three distinct effects, each of which make a very strong thematic statement. In the most immediate sense, by connecting the viewer's perspective to that of the tank's gunner, the film creates the illusion that the audience is participatory in the violence or lack of that ensues in the film.

Only, with no actual trigger available to the viewer, the audience is an 'unwitting' accomplice in the offensive actions of the gunner. The sound effect this choice of perspective has is in evoking the voyeuristic relationship that an audience has with the 'hyperreality' of conflict. The periscope frame could as easily be, or as a matter of fact is, a camera viewfinder.

Much more importantly, however, the choice if setting film entirely inside a tank and confining our experience solely to the fears and doubts of its crew ends up making a political statement by reframing Israel as an 'insecure actor' in the Middle East.

The tank itself could be both metaphor for Israel's military might and for the walls - physical and conceptual - the country has erected to secure itself. The fear the tank crew experience is a substitute for fears that have prompted military action and heavy-handed from Israel in the past.

Missing in the film is any other perspective from the Middle East, or from the conflict it depicts, which could provide a counter to this statement. Indeed, the problematic with Lebanon begins with the title itself; we only ever meet the Lebanese individuals, both of them Phalangists who are depicted as almost cartoonish villains in contrast to the nuanced portrayal of the Israeli tank crew.

We also meet a Syrian prisoner-of-war in the film, who the Israelis shelter from the Phalangists. This may be seen as an attempt to wash away a sense of 'guilt' connected to the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

All nations begin with what religious theorists would see as a 'creation myth.' Myth here is not to be misunderstood with falsehood. rather, it is simply a story, true or imagined, or a hybrid of both, that provides the underpinnings of a nascent identity.

For Israel, the myth is very much tied to the story of David and Goliath. Israelis, like some other nations around the world, want to frame their statehood as the ultimate underdog story.

Whether true or not at the outset is a separate debate for another time. In perpetuating that creation myth, however, their nation may be choosing to blind itself to the Goliath it has become.

The World Students Society thanks author Zeeshan Ahmed, The Express Tribune.

With respectful dedication to Mankind, Leaders, Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

''' Wars - Wary '''

Good Night and God Bless

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