We are fortunate to have in Saratoga Springs quite a few resources to enrich our lives. The Film Forum is one of them; formed sixteen years ago by a group of enthusiastic friends dismayed by the poverty of films on offer at the malls around the City, and by the lack of a downtown venue for movies, they started renting films from national distributors on 35 mm stock, and discussing what they had just seen in impromptu gatherings.
The miracle is that they are still active, they still show films at the Arts Center three times a week, and their audience is still engaged, interested and faithful.
On Sunday December 19th the Film Forum was showing an Israeli film, “Lebanon”, a first long feature by Samuel Maoz. It attracted an average of 30 people per showing on each of the frigid nights, and a discussion group on Sunday.
“Lebanon” shows the face of war that nobody wants to talk about. The war professionals insist on methodologies, tactics, technologies and leadership. The politicians see war as an instrument of policy and governance. Disdaining the tropes of glory this film brings it down to the individual in battle.
Four twenty year old kids are sitting in a tank, a steel behemoth identified as Rhino, a code name, an enclosure that binds them into a universe, an acting unit. It works out as a metaphor for our own lives: the radio crackles instructions and directions from unknown speakers, from time to time the hatch opens and admits an agent of the outside world, the local commander. Casualties are called angels in the war lingo and dead angels are lowered into their world through that hatch, captured terrified aliens descend into it. What the four soldiers see is limited by the electronic gun sight; unlike aircraft pilots they can see and amplify the faces of the people they have to shoot at, as well as the havoc that spreads from their fingertips on the trigger.
This universe is dark and dirty and self-contained. The steel enclosure provides its inhabitants with a measure of invulnerability. They carry with them, in cans or at their feet, all their bodily fluids. The floor of the tank is covered in dark liquids, of uncertain depth, punctuated by swaying cigarette butts. The certainty of death floats in the air they are breathing: a tank does not break down, it either burns up, or it drives.
And yet this universe, constrained, filthy, uncertain, and distorting is their home; their enemies, the world outside. The voice over the radio is their link to it; it is a lifeline over which they receive instructions, orders, information, from some unknown dimension, punctuated by an archangel’s arrival, often as confused as they are, but willing sense out of their chaotic situation.
During the few hours of transit through an unknown hell the boys forge themselves into a family, a squabbling, mourning and living world that includes us, the voyeurs watching them through the director’s camera view. The hostile outside world is impossible to decipher, the enemies look like themselves, the information given is of doubtful meaning, the value of their designated friends is uncertain.
A paradise is promised at the end or their ordeals, an objective at the end of the road suitably named St. Tropez. But to get there the tank has to rely on its own strengths, alive with hydraulic howls, steely grinds, jerks and uncertain responses to fingers pressing buttons, switches and triggers, the skill of the driver and the unkillable engine, pushed by their collective will to get there alive.
The big question that this film is asking: who has the right to place their own young people into such extreme situations? What doctrine, policy, ideology can justify such havoc, such personal apocalypses.?
War, they say, is hell. But it is a completely man-made hell. Dante could not imagine in his fifteen circles anything that compares to the catastrophes we humans have demonstrated the capability to manufacture.
The Beginning of the End.
6 years ago