|Ohad Knoller plays Ziv, part of an Israeli army unit stationed in South Lebanon. (Kino International)|
"Beaufort" is a solid war movie whose Israeli army soldiers anxiously await permission to go home. It's set at the title outpost, a historic castle in Southern Lebanon, during the South Lebanon conflict not long before Israel pulled out in 2000.
One of this year's foreign-language Oscar contenders, the film forgoes easy heroism to consider the shock of war as it registers across the faces of Liraz Librati (Oshri Cohen), its young commander, and his largely untested troops. Liraz sees one of his best friends wounded, and he's too overwhelmed to lift him to safety. The film is split between quiet and noise: The soldiers keep a frustrated watch for Hezbollah's missiles, which crash around them often enough to keep them on edge. Their downtime is spent in debate.
The film, which opens at the Museum of Fine Arts today, is mired in the daily doldrums of guard duty, but it asks all-purpose questions about how much a soldier is permitted to think for himself. Does the unit rebuild the damaged areas of the post? Does it retaliate against its attackers? Does it cut its losses and leave? How long should the men tolerate sitting around? How long until sitting around gets them killed? Liraz's leadership is constantly questioned.
"Beaufort" is based on Ron Leshem's novel "If There Is a Heaven," which was rooted in true events. Leshem wrote the script with Joseph Cedar, who tries pitching the movie on almost existential terms. But the interiority of a novel feels hollow in this movie. As is usual for films engaged in cinematic conflict, the appeal of this material seems partly the opportunity to refine Cedar's technical skills. There are, for instance, some lovely trips through the tight bunker tunnels via tracking shots that recall Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory." And the sound of bombs falling remains an alarming aural motif for most of the movie's two-hour running time.
But pulled between raising questions about war and meeting certain entertainment demands, the film feels generically flat. As the "Beaufort" press materials say, the movie could be set anywhere. So the sensations of panic, dread, or outrage never take hold in us or the men. That's an odd testament to the contagious nature of Cedar's filmmaking. The soldiers feel stuck and so do we.