Monday, May 12, 2008

Beaufort, the film

This is my first post in May. It's been a busy month, what can I say. And actually I haven't been that inspired to post and never wanted to post for the sake of posting like some people, going on and on about nothing... wait a second... I think that's exactly what I'm doing, dammit.
Anyway, I will report on one thing, the film Beaufort which my wife and I saw last night as part of Montreal's Israeli filmfest. It was nominated for the best foreign language Academy Award this year. We'd both really liked the novel by Ron Leshem (he also co-wrote the screenplay). We both agreed that the film was disappointing. It may have something to do with that old standby about films not matching up to the books on which they're based. At least the film doesn't completely suffer from Israelo-cinemitis, a disease of Israeli films which renders them universally second-rate with symptoms including earnestness, cliches, a certain technical amateurishness and the need to always make a political statement. This movie escapes most of those flaws, I say 'most' because the politics are unavoidably there - it's a story about the final days of the occupation of Southern Lebanon, after all - and there are some cliches. But perhaps the film's greatest break with the past of Israeli cinema are the technical achievements. The cinematography, choice of camera-angles are superb and the soundtrack/soundscape is absolutely hyptonic. Most of this would have been lost if the movie'd been experienced on DVD (unless you have state of the art home theatre equipment at home, which we don't.) The cinematographer succeeded in making the Crusader castle where the story is set feel unbearably claustrophobic, with an ominous ambient hum echoing through the tunnels of the fortress. Beaufort felt like the derelict spaceship aimlessly floating through space in Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien and the young soldiers enduring regular Hezbollah surprise attacks seemed analogous to the crew being stalked by a lethal, unseen and unkillable extraterrestial enemy. It's a pretty neat analogy that's pulled off quite well. But it's also the film's downfall because it's formulaic and made the film (unlike the novel) feel somewhat one dimensional. As the suspense fomula goes, you sit on the edge of your seat for ninety minutes waiting for each person to meet their untimely demise in increasingly gruesome and surprising fashion. Another problem with the film, unlike the book, is that there isn't enough character development to let you care for the soldiers, and in particular the protagonist, the young commander Liraz Liberti. I'm not sure if the problem here was the script or the acting, but I'm tending toward blaming the acting. There simply wasn't enough depth to the performance of Oshri Cohen. The young Israeli star Ohad Knoller who plays bomb-dismantler Ziv commands every scene he's in unlike Cohen. Too bad he only appears in the first third of the film. You can guess what happens to him. If Knoller had played Liraz I think it would have been a richer, more rewarding experience.

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