Leaving Lebanon again
Joseph Cedar, the first Israeli director to win the Silver Bear award, says Israeli cinema is healthy and varied.
The morning after director Joseph Cedar won the Silver Bear award for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival, the happiness in his voice made up for the exhaustion. "I slept very little last night," he declared.
Yesterday, Cedar was at the Berlin airport with the cast of his film "Beaufort," who accompanied him at the prestigious festival: Oshri Cohen, Ohad Knoller, Itay Tiran and Eli Eltonyo. They were waiting for their return flight to Israel. Cedar, the first Israeli director to win the Silver Bear, emphasized that the judges' appreciation for "Beaufort" belongs not only to him, but to his entire team.
"This film was hard to make," he said. "We slept together in the remote location where we filmed, and in effect we became a small family. The opportunity to bring this family here and to let it receive the appreciation it deserves makes me very happy."
The prizes won by Israeli filmmakers in the past month do not surprise Cedar. "Sweet Mud" directed by Dror Shaul, and "Hothouse," directed by Shimon Dotan, received awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and in Berlin, "The Bubble" by Eytan Fox and "Sweet Mud" also received prizes. Cedar said that many good films are being made in Israel that do not receive prizes, and that the string of recent awards is only a coincidence. "Amazing films are being made in Israel," he said. "Some receive prizes and some don't, and that doesn't necessarily testify to their quality."
However, Cedar agrees with those in the local film industry who say Israeli film is undergoing a process of change and development, is acquiring an international reputation, and is making an impact.
"Israeli film is healthy, it has become an industry with variety, and variety is something that creates quality," he says.
"Beaufort" represents this variety well. The film, which will be screened in Israel only in another two and a half weeks, tells the story of a group of Israel Defense Forces soldiers who manned the Beaufort outpost in Lebanon during its final days, before Israel withdrew from Lebanon and destroyed the post. Unlike other Israeli war films, the plot is not told from a patriotic perspective, and the experience is not heroic. The film, which is based on Ron Leshem's book "Im Yesh Gan Eden," focuses on the routine at the outpost, the fear of the frequent shellings, and the soldiers' frustration at their inability to defend themselves.
In his acceptance speech Saturday night, Cedar turned to Israel's leaders and emphasized the message of "Beaufort."
"The film tells how wars end, how the flag is taken down, how to climb down from the mountain and return home, and it also tells about fear," he said. "My hope is that our leaders will be afraid of wars, and that they will know how to end them."
Nachman Ingber, the chair of the professional advisory committee of the Rabinowitz Foundation, which supported the film, said the decision to do so was based on the film's unique concept. "The concept of presenting an army, and especially an army considered a 'winning army,' as a sitting duck, as well as the decision to focus on the passivity of the soldiers and how they deal with fear, is unique and rare, even in international film," he said.
Ingber said the film addresses previous Israeli movies that deal with the masculine experience. "Here the total absence of women is strongly evident, and the masculinity is not one of action. There is one outburst by a commander who asks angrily, 'Why don't they let us act?' But aside from that, the presentation is one of masculine passivity, of helplessness, of sitting ducks. And the decision not to deal with the capture of Beaufort but rather with the withdrawal, with the destruction of the outpost, is also a significant statement."
Ingber believes that the judges in Berlin were impressed by "Beaufort" due to its original presentation of the war, and its decision to focus on the world of young, naive men. However, said Ingber, "I'm certain there were additional considerations, such as the current relevance of the film in the wake of the second Lebanon war, and its political statement: The film depicts a withdrawing rather than an occupying Israel, and that may also have been an important consideration."
However, will a film that presents a frightened, helpless and passive army be accepted with understanding in Israel as well?
"They say that every war creates a reorganization, and the most recent war has led to very radical reforms," said Ingber. "I believe that through this film, people will become closer to themselves, to their feelings, to what they felt there and to the change this war brought about in them. In light of what happened in the last war, the statement by 'Beaufort' is almost inevitable."