If you are an Israeli citizen, you may recognize the events depicted in Beaufort. You may even have an emotional attachment to the name “Beaufort.” But for those of us who have only lived in the United States, Beaufort is just a war movie.
“Beaufort” is the name of a mountaintop fort in Lebanon. The Israeli army took the fort in 1982, and they held it for 18 years, giving it up only 8 years ago. This Oscar-nominated drama is set during the last days of the Israeli army in Beaufort.
The film opens on the arrival of a demolitions expert. Hezbollah has planted a bomb on the road down from the mountain. A soldier might tell you why they flew in a one-man bomb squad instead of just detonating it from afar with grenades or guns, but I can’t. In any case, his arrival is a dramatic excuse for character and plot exposition.
Like any good war movie, Beaufort features a diverse group of soldiers working together on the same mission. Roger Ebert might call it a “onesa” film: one’s a musician, one’s a tightass, one’s a hothead....
Other Hezbollah attacks have become commonplace. The fort seems to be under a constant barrage of mortar and rocket fire. An underutilized communications officer announces “incoming, incoming” over the P.A. every time a shell is heard, no doubt following some ancient military protocol. But the attacks are so common that the voice over the speakers is bored, and nobody on the ground even listens anymore.
A Farewell, with Arms
Over the course of the film, the soldiers talk politics. It seems that Israel wasn’t supposed to capture this fort back in ‘82. When they were fighting Lebanon, they were supposed to make a show of force, but capturing territory wasn’t in the plans. But once Israel got the fort, they had to hold it, and for an entire generation, Israeli soldiers were stationed at Beaufort.
Now that the fort’s days are numbered, the last squad of soldiers is making memories as they prepare to scorch the earth behind them when they leave.
Just Another War Movie
Beaufort is intended for a specific audience that doesn’t include me.
For starters, it’s more cerebral and less exciting than most war movies. The mission for these soldiers is simply to wait. There is nothing for them to capture, no enemy for them to kill, not even a fort to defend, really, since it’s going to be blown up anyway. They only have to survive and wait, which must be very frustrating for trained killers.
The movie is also fairly culturally specific. If you don’t know the recent history of Israel, you might be a little lost at first. And although it’s possible for any human being to follow the moods of the soldiers, some of the irony is lost if you don’t have the background (a good start is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982_Lebanon_War) — at least that’s the way it felt to me. I sensed that there was subtlety and depth that I was missing.
Still, the movie offers good tension — there are some set pieces that work very well. It also offers some interesting sets and cinematography: the outermost fort dates to the 12th century, while the deeper tunnels are made of perfectly smoothed, reinforced concrete.
For some, the movie may even offer a bit of Quixotic sentiment: here are a group of soldiers answering the call of duty in pursuit of a hopeless quest.
But for me, Beaufort doesn’t really offer enough. It is an average war movie with some interesting parts.