Wednesday, October 07, 2015

OVP: Beaufort (2007)

Film: Beaufort (2007)
Stars: Oshri Cohen, Eli Eltonyo, Itay Turgeman, Ohad Knoller, Itay Tiran
Director: Joseph Cedar
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Foreign Language Film-Israel)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

War is arguably the most popular subject of "serious" cinema.  It's one of those universal things-whether we're talking about the Crusades or the latest conflicts in Syria, war is something that binds humanity in a way almost nothing else (other than perhaps its inverse, love) can.  As a result, it's frequently the subject of Oscar's Foreign Language Film category, and this was true for Israel's Beaufort, a 2007 contender for the prize.  The film follows the final days preceding the Israeli withdrawal from the famed Beaufort Castle in Lebanon, a beautiful medieval tavern of a place, and the men who slowly seem to succumb to the harshness of battle.

(Spoilers Ahead) It seems callous to say, particularly since the story is based on real-life, but this isn't a new story for the world of cinema, and part of me during the first half of the film was sort of bored.  The film has a handsomeness to it (and not just cause the lead actor is enjoyable to look at), and is very well-done and has some solid acting, though initially it seems like the soldiers are made to be pretty much a blank slate except for the by-the-book Liraz (Cohen) and the more cautious neophyte Ziv (Knoller).  However it just sort of sat there, going through all of the motions of a wartime film that we've come to expect.  There are arguments about the men in the higher ranks making decisions for the men who "know what they're doing," and the many conversations about what will happen once they leave the castle, returning to their girlfriends.  And of course since it's a hyper-macho film there has to be at least one scene mocking homosexuality (in this case someone misreading a man's tattoo as Michael rather than Michelle).  All-in-all, I found the first half to be cribbed from a book of cliches; it's something that's okay for what it is, but nothing new and certain nothing that should warrant an Oscar nomination.

In the second half, however, the film starts to make some interesting points, though it's still a bit bound by the cliches of war, and the way that Liraz must learn his lesson in terms of lost comrades in order to realize that he needs to defy orders when they seem unnecessary.  The interesting part is as we slowly realize the futility of the conflict and the loss-of-life that's happening on this rock is pointless, and not just in the sense that all war is ultimately pointless and diplomacy is the only true solution.  Here we see that the government has already decided to pull out of this post, and that the final days are spent more about negotiating some of the politics behind the decision rather than actually staying for a specific strategic reason or even to negotiate much with the other side of the conflict.  As a result, we see men die guarding a rock that their government doesn't even want, and that starts to wear on them.  There's a scene late in the movie where the men are forced to stay another 24 hours due to political negotiations, a scene that seems rife with real-world examples (how often do we see politicians set up dates to leave the war, knowing that in those final few days it's likely that some soldiers will die as a result of it not being immediate).  It's an angle of the war movie I haven't really seen before, or at least not in such a clearly political way, and I liked it. It's this angle that makes me wonder if AMPAS was sending a message in its own way; after all, 2007 was the high-water mark so far in terms of quality films and AMPAS, and it was also at the height of the left's hatred for the Bush administration.  It's not too much of a stretch to see the lack of success in Iraq and compare it with this film.

Other than this political point, though, I didn't find myself too enamored by the film.  I went with three-stars because it's not a bad film, and it's better moments are worth the price of admission, though if you are one of those people who is kind of sick of war at the movies, this might not be the film that makes you gain your stomach for it.  At least those were my thoughts-what about yours?  Have you seen Beaufort, and if so, what were your thoughts on the movie?  Do you think that its politics in the second half were interesting, or just a rehash of other similarly-minded films?  And where does it rank against the other foreign film nominees of 2007?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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