Directors’ Showcase / UK premiere

Beaufort

  • Joseph Cedar /
  • Israel /
  • 2007 /
  • 125 mins

Oshri Cohen, Itay Tiran, Eli Eltonyo, Ohad Knoller, Itay Turgeman, Arthur Faradjev, Itai Szor

Powerful, award-winning Israeli war drama, based on Ron Leshem's novel.

“If you’re here, it’s by mistake.” So says a young Israeli conscript to one of his comrades early on in Joseph Cedar’s film, based upon Ron Leshem’s novel of the same name, and set during the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon seven years ago. The exchange refers to the maze-like complex of corridors that make up the eponymous Beaufort, a stone outpost of 12th-century origin in which Israeli soldiers have been stationed since the first Lebanon war of 1982.

It’s now 2000, and a rearguard squad of Israeli troops is awaiting orders to evacuate Beaufort. For Liraz, the intense, unbending commander of the remaining soldiers, leaving Beaufort is tinged with humiliation, not least because a family member died in the 1982 capture of the fort. But as the weeks drag on – and the regular shelling of Beaufort by Hezbollah forces increases the casualty toll among the men – the soldiers begin to feel a weariness about their duties in Lebanon, and an impatience to get home.

The film largely eschews direct politics, although the spectacle of Israeli soldiers fighting and dying over a position they know they must leave does implicitly question the 18-year-long occupation of Southern Lebanon (and lends larger significance to that notion of being somewhere by mistake).

However, the film’s chief impact is in its intimate, sympathetic portrait of the experience of the handful of soldiers left to man Beaufort. An intense, superbly nuanced chamber piece, Joseph Cedar’s film captures the unbearable tension – and sustaining comradeship – endured by young men in a combat zone. Played with a touching mix of beefy physicality and emotional fragility by a fine all-male cast, the soldiers despair of their unseen superiors’ tactics, exchange battle-worn jokes, and grow more homesick each time one of their number is killed by enemy fire.

Alternating between the breathtakingly wide desert vistas that the outpost overlooks and the dark, claustrophobic interiors in which the men are quartered, Beaufort is a film of finely crafted contrasts: fierce and brutal in its depiction of battle, tender and sensitive in its portrait of the friendship between the soldiers at rest. A film about the psychology – necessity, even – of retreat, Beaufort is an unusual war movie. Made with muscular narrative control and affecting humanity, the results impress.
Ed Lawrenson

2007 Archive

Image from Beaufort

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