Israeli director Joseph Cedar has an enviable record: his first two feature films, 2001’s Time of Favour and Campfire (2004), were chosen as his country’s official entries for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar. So, too, was this vivid and compelling, fact-based drama of men at war, scripted by Ron Leshem from his own acclaimed novel.
The film succeeds brilliantly on two levels — as a potent picture of Israeli soldiers under pressure in Lebanon in 2000 as they prepare to withdraw from the eponymous 12th-century mountain-top fort after 18 years of occupation, and also as a universal representation of any soldiers in any war.
The drama is centred on Oshri Cohen, who gives an impressive performance as the (real-life) 22-year-old Beaufort outpost commander Liraz Liberti. As the fort suffers a relentless bombardment by Hizbollah rockets, and the death and injury tolls mount, Liberti finds his authority increasingly challenged by his own men as they weary of their mission, and by his uncooperative superiors.
In illuminating the Israeli retreat from Beaufort, rather than simply settling for an adrenaline-rousing victory, Cedar, who served in Lebanon between 1987 and 1989 —as an infantry soldier, a paratrooper and a medic, “but mostly as a teenager who happened to be in uniform” — avoids crass combat melodrama in favour of a claustrophobic, emotionally accurate and very well-acted ensemble drama.
The characterisation is credible, there is none of the usual war-movie stereotypes and no poor performances. Beaufort is a landmark Israeli film.