Lowdown: The days before Israel’s 2000 retreat from Lebanon, viewed from inside a bunker.
I have distinct childhood memories of the Israeli war in Lebanon during 1982. I remember the empty roads, the result of many men being called for army reserve duty (a fact that helped my sister pass her driver’s test). I remember playing with friends during a break when we were told that the Beaufort (or the way it’s called in Israel, Bufor) was conquered by Israeli soldiers from the PLO but at a great price of human life, and I remember the questions being asked afterwards as to the wisdom of this conquest.
The Beaufort is a bunker located next to an old Crusaders forest a few tens of kilometres into Lebanese territory from Israel’s northern borders. As per the other numerous fortresses built by the Crusaders in the area, the Beaufort is beautifully located high on a mountain, so as to allow good vantage and control over the mostly hostile population below. Israel held on to the Beaufort all the way from 1982 to 2000, when it retreated out of Lebanon altogether (and when Hezbollah took over instead). Beaufort, the 2007 Israeli produced film, follows a fictional set of events taking place during the weeks before Israel’s retreat that's obviously inspired by real life events.
Almost the entire film takes place inside the Beaufort bunker as we follow the [Israeli] people manning it. We start off with the soldiers unable to contact the outside world other than by air after an explosive is set on the path leading to the bunker. A bomb dismantling specialist is brought in to help, providing viewers with an introduction to the people at the fort – most central of which is the young lieutenant commanding it, Liraz. As the film progresses we witness an escalating chain of Israeli casualties at the Beaufort, putting Liraz in conflict: on one hand he’s grabbed the opportunity to command the post with both hands and he genuinely believes he’s doing great service to his country, but on the other he’s slowly realizing his and his men’s sacrifices at the fort are nothing more than a political chess game. Or rather, he’s the last to realize it amongst the fort’s people as they’re either physically or mentally removed from their post.
As an ex soldier in the Israeli army I was never in situations and settings as extreme as the ones played by the Beaufort’s soldiers. I can, however, recognize the incredible authenticity created by the film in its description of the situation and its description of army life. From that dumbed down way of talking that is full of bad mouthing and army lingo yet is quite to the point, down to the way the bunker and the equipment look like, Beaufort feels as real as. It was so real that I was very vividly reminded exactly why I detested my own army service for being a waste of time, for making me do things that are of no importance whatsoever to any worthwhile cause, and for preventing me from doing much better things with my limited time upon this earth. The one single thing that drove me away from Israel and towards Australia the most was this feeling of deep hostility I have towards army life, and Beaufort was good enough to hit that soft nerve of mine with the power of a sledgehammer.
Beaufort is good for much more than that, though, because it packs with it an important political message. By showing us how soldiers are led to their meaningless deaths by detached commanders uttering meaningless commands from the safety of their homes, Beaufort makes a statement about the way our political system runs. With regards to Israel’s situation with Lebanon it asks the question of whether there was no point for Israel’s eighteen year occupation there, while in contrast it asks the question (albeit much more subtly) of whether that year 2000 retreat was dangerous because it allowed Israel’s enemies to take over and, as we now know, put a lot of the country under the direct threat of a missile attack. One can easily find more philosophical issues to discuss out of Beaufort, but the political one is by far the most immediate.
It’s also by far the most relevant, even in Australia. Take the situation Australia is in by looking at the events of this last week alone: in separate events, two Aussie soldiers have died in Afghanistan and two more were injured. In parallel, federal elections took place in Australia but the war in Afghanistan was never an agenda item. Why is that? Why do we have Australians fighting in Afghanistan in the first place, what good comes out of that, and is there a point to the soldiers' deaths? Watch this film and you’ll probably agree there is not much point there; you’ll agree that the soldiers are dying for nothing more than their leaders’ political ass covering and for people being generally unable to change their minds even in the face of clear evidence.
Best scene: One moment a soldier is there, eating chocolate; the next he’s lying dead after a booby-trap takes him by surprise. That particular scene is set in a way that reminded me a lot of Hezbollah’s videoing of its attacks on Israeli soldiers, prominent videos in Israeli news services back in the nineties.
Overall: A very potent film at 4 out of 5 stars.