My favourite film, so far, of this year’s Venice, Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz’s stunningly assured debut is set during the first 24 hours of the 1982 Lebanon War and, bar three shots, takes place entirely within the confines of an Israeli tank. Tense, claustrophobic, incredibly harrowing and totally gripping, the film, which I’ve taken to calling Das Tank, is based on Maoz’s own experiences of that conflict, and is, quite evidently, the work of a man still exorcising his emotional demons.
As the film begins, a new gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat) joins the tank’s existing crew of Assi (Itay Tiran), the commander, Yigal (Michael Moshonov) the driver, and assistant gunner, Hertzel (Oshri Cohen). Sent to accompany a paratrooper unit on its way to a Lebanese village, the four dirty, sweaty men inside the tank are told to expect no resistance but things don’t work out as planned. The troops are trapped, the tank’s hit by a missile, and the crew, already panicky and paranoid, succumbed to shock and fear, bickering amongst themselves and with their commanding officer Jamil (Zohar Strauss).
Almost immediately, Maoz succeeds in trapping the audience inside the tank with the four soldiers, restricting the outside world entirely to views through Shmulik’s viewfinder. In many ways, this could be a film about any war, any four soldiers. Maoz isn’t interested in making any big political statement, nor does he offer a radically new take on the futility of armed conflict. Rather, this is an intimate and visceral slice of his life, as he remembers it. Not necessarily a true story, but a truthful one.