Samual Maoz’s debut feature is directly based on his own experiences as a tank gunner in the Lebanon War. This bold film is told under two self-imposed formal constraints: we, as viewers and camera, stay inside a tank for the entire length of the film; and, when we do see the outside world, it is only through the tank’s main gunsights. This results, naturally, in a claustrophobic, dangerous atmosphere ramped up to eleven by the jangling, damaged nerves of the tank’s young, inexperienced and basically terrified crew. Unlike the very long all-set-on-a-submarine movie Das Boot, Lebanon is a tight and crisp ninety minutes, which is all we need given the all-engulfing and rarely flagging tension. The third natural artistic obstruction – to set the action in real-time – has been eschewed for the slightly more forgiving structure of setting the action over a twenty-four hour period, but this enables a greater story arc to occur, and the film manages to engage on that level as well as bing a nerve-jangling, “you are there” type of experience.
RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE ***
This decidedly off-kilter “Christmas Tale”, from Finnish writer / director Jalmari Helander, is light-years away from Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. The prequel to two highly successful short films (both easily seen on YouTube), this dark, haunting and cold tale is more of a comic horror movie for all ages than a happy children’s story – although a child is the protagonist of the film and it certainly should appeal to young teens as well as their parents. In the isolated Korvatunturi mountains deep in true Lappland, a small group of Reindeer hunters discover a potentially more profitable – and dangerous – prey. With a visual and aural sensibility deeply inspired by Hollywood “light horror” pictures, but with a storytelling rhythm that seems more in tune with the long, slow nights of the winter north, Rare Exports is a rare and strange movie which will delight fans of the weird and wonderful rather than those who like their stories told to expectation. A tip, too: don’t go watch the two shorts until you’ve seen the feature, as they begin where the feature is wrapping up, and thus give away the extremely inventive ending.