This past week I was invited to teach about issues of contemporary Israel through film at a festival called Jewstock in the Lake Balaton region outside of Budapest. The festival attracted hundreds of Jews in their mid-to-late 20's who were attracted mostly by the night-time live musical events. In addition, the daytime program included workshops, discussions and film screenings.
It seemed quite surreal to screen Beaufort for this group. Here we were in a pastoral setting, enjoying the outdoors, the music, the beer, while watching a film about the end of the first war in Lebanon!
Based on the bestseller, If there is a Heaven by Ron Leshem (English title: Beaufort), the film is a very authentic and powerful statement about the absurdity and futility of war. It is a film critical of war, of the military establishment, and of the political decision-making process.
Beaufort is a Crusader castle in southern Lebanon, which was conquered by Israeli forces for strategic purposes in 1982 at the beginning of the Lebanon War and was held until Israeli forces withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon in 1999. The film is about the daily routine of the soldiers during that period in 1999, just before the withdrawal from the Beaufort mountaintop.
It is a film about palpable and terrifying fear, about male bonding and friendship, and, different from other war films, it permits the soldiers to voice their emotions and worries, to talk about their families, and to share their inner-most thoughts. There are no stereotypes at Beaufort.
Explosive Book-endsThe film is "framed" by two soldiers who work with explosives. At the beginning of the film, Ziv (Ohad Knoller) is sent to the hilltop as a sapper, to disable a roadside bomb. In a friendly give-and-take with the other soldiers, one asks him, "how did you become a sapper, did you choose it?" He responds, "how did you get to Beaufort, did you choose it?" Immediately the viewer is shocked into understanding that we did not actually "choose" to conquer and hold Beaufort for 18 years – rather, the Israeli military got stuck in the mud of Lebanon and didn't quite know how to get out of it! In a very tense scene, the soldiers set out on the mission to disable the bomb and the sapper dog is sent ahead to check it out. Then Ziv approaches, and quickly becomes the first casualty of the film.
The explosives expert at the end of the film is sent to blow up the military stronghold at Beaufort at the time of the pullout. The fact that the first is killed by the roadside bomb -- the symbol of the loss of Israeli soldiers by guerilla warfare in Lebanon -- and the second succeeds in his mission of retreating, is indicative of the whole experience in southern Lebanon.
The FilmmakerSimilar to Beaufort, Joseph Cedar's first feature film, Time of Favor (2001) also featured a young army officer, grappling with issues of leadership, responsibility, and taking initiative in a situation which gets out of hand. These films – Time of Favor and Beaufort – are part of a trend in Israeli filmmaking of the last 10-15 years that portray issues of the army in an authentic and critical style.
Winning an award for best director at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival, Joseph Cedar commented: "What intrigued me most in the story of Beaufort is that it deals with how wars end. There is an abrupt, definitive moment in every war when the mission, or purpose, for which soldiers gave their lives until that moment, ceases to exist. With Beaufort this moment comes with a great horrific explosion, destroying one of the bloodiest mountains in the Middle East - an unforgettable, adrenaline-saturated moment, but also an image that crystallizes the inconceivable waste of human life. As a filmmaker, and as a former infantry soldier, I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to put this image on screen." (http://www.bavaria-film-international.de/htmls/bfi/index.php?site=program&id=224 ).