Capturing (although there is some doubt as to whether the “take Mount Beaufort at any cost” order was ever given) then defending a strategic lookout that can trace its military roots to the Crusades seems a noble cause no matter who the combatants are. In Joseph Cedar’s film (Cedar also co-wrote the screenplay with Ron Leshem—author of the novel it was based upon) the elite Israeli troops lose several of their number even as they await the life-saving command to abandon their post as part of the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon.
Under the direct control of Liraz (Oshri Cohen provides a plausible moving portrayal of the anguish all leaders face when their superiors fail to understand the import of their far-away decisions on the front lines) the gritty troops endure daily bombings from ever-larger payloads. No worries, HQ simply sends up more concrete slabs and hopes for the best. And so the young men sleep in the “protected area” and play dodge bomb while on patrol or night watch. Naturally, they grow close and—in one poignant scene —listen to nineteen-year-old Zitlawy (Itay Turgeman) sing a moving ballad for his weary colleagues only to be blown to kingdom come on his next shift.
To prepare for the imminent but still-not-certain departure, the army sends up truckloads of explosives to detonate after turning off the lights: “We don’t want to leave anything useful for Hezbollah.” As the deaths continue to mount, a near-mutiny erupts. Why should we put ourselves at risk if we are about to leave? The answer: orders are orders. Necessarily, the point of view is all one-sided; the enemy is heard and felt, but never seen. But similar to Nanking (cross-reference below) the bigger issues—how they got there in the first place; if those now under attack ever inflicted the same kind of losses and terror on others—are not welcome in the narrative, which is certainly the prerogative of the creative team.
Sadly, in discussion with a thoughtful woman who had also just seen the film, she reacted with shock and disbelief to the possibility that enemy rank-and-file forces might have grown equally close, bravely carried out their duties and couldn’t wait to go home to their loved ones. This sort of one-sided storytelling can only prolong the agony of mankind’s inhumanity to his fellow human beings: black-and-white without shades of grey results in unstoppable streams of blood-red casualties. JWR