Without ever actually having been in an Israeli tank, and certainly never having had to operate one during a bloody war, I’m still confident that Samuel Moaz’s film—shot, until the very last scene, entirely from the perspective of the sweaty, panicked young soldiers inside a tank during the first Lebanon war in 1982—is the most accurate visual representation of this harrowing experience to date. As one might expect, it does not make for comfortable viewing.
The plot centres around Shmuel (the gunner), Assi (the commander), Herzl (the loader) and Yigal (the driver), and the platoon of soldiers whom they are tasked to cover, as they push into a country devastated by air strikes, where gunmen or defenceless women and children may still lurk around any corner or under any piece of rubble.
The dialogue is expertly pared down, and the performances of the actors quite extraordinary. But perhaps the most forceful character in the film is the tank itself. The production team, on a stringent budget, went to extraordinary lengths to recreate the claustrophobic atmosphere inside the vehicle as accurately as possible: it’s filmed inside a metal shell, intricately designed so that it could acquire a personality of its own, oozing oil and the blood and sweat of the prisoners and bodies deposited in it.
The film is based on Moaz’s own experiences of the Lebanon conflict, as an 18-year-old soldier forced to fight and kill. He says that he has been haunted by what he saw, and was forced to do, for the rest of his adult life, but the process of making this film—recreating so accurately the visions in his nightmares—has offered some form of catharsis. As well it might. If redemption comes in laying bare the gritty, sweaty, terrifying reality of war, stripped of heroism, flashy gadgets and other Hollywood inventions; in showing something so unglamorous, so sensually disturbing, then Moaz now certainly deserves to sleep well at night. Never has war been so ugly.