The title of Joseph Cedar’s foreign-language Oscar-nominee refers to the ancient, symbolic Crusader fort in Lebanon, stormed, at great cost, by Israeli elite troops at the beginning of the ‘first’ Lebanon War in 1982. By 1999 – when Cedar’s autobiographical movie re-visits its now God-forsaken, missile-holed, prefab concrete corridors – that symbolism has been all-but fogged-over by seven years of conflict.
The desultory members of the Israeli Defence Force company charged with manning the post, too, wonder where their idealism has gone – ‘I wanted to be here, that’s my mistake’, says one – and even the morale of their fiercely professional, if militarily unorthodox, young commander, Liraz (the charismatic Oshri Cohen) is fatefully tested as the series of pointless deaths of his troops continue even as he and they await the orders for the hilltop to be finally abandoned.
Making effective, subjective, use of hand-held camera, well-mounted action sequences and perfectly-pitched heightened-naturalist-style acting, tempered with clever surrealist touches – not least the creepy deployment of ‘dummy’ decoy soldiers – and a judicious use of framing and sound design more familiar from the horror-movie lexicon, ‘Beaufort’ mounts an impressively credible ‘expressionist’ reconstruction of the futility and contradictions of war as experienced by these men. Its limitation comes from a fundamental failure of vision, not inherent, as Wolfgang Petersen’s ‘Das Boot’ proved, in its microcosmic view or any failure to spread its ‘humanist’ vision to its unseen, putative ‘enemy’, but everything to do with Cedar and his co-writer Ron Leshem’s inability to properly universalise its poor subjects’ true predicament.