(Venice, Italy) "On June 6, 1982, at 6:15 AM, I killed a man..."
Thus begins Samuel Maoz's
Director's Statement for the Israeli film, Lebanon, winner of the Leone d'Oro, or Golden Lion, the top prize of the Venice International Film Festival, il Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica di Venezia -- the oldest film festival in the world.
I went to the press conference on September 8th before I saw the movie -- usually it's the other way around -- and was impressed by Maoz's directness and raw honesty when answering questions. After Roderick Conway Morris told me he thought Lebanon could win the Golden Lion (click here to read Rod's review in the New York Times: review:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/arts/11iht-venfest11.html), I made an effort to attend the next screening, which happened to be at the Sala Grande. That meant that I watched the film together with the filmmakers -- the director, actors, production people, etc. -- and was present at the end of the movie when the entire audience stood up and applauded Samuel Maoz and his companions. We applauded and applauded and applauded; I was weeping a bit; it was really one of the few times I participated in a standing ovation with all my heart, not just out of politeness. We recognized courage and we applauded it. Maoz had performed an act of alchemy, transforming the trauma he had experienced into a work of art.
More from the Director's Statement, in Maoz's own words, which describes the writing process so eloquently:
"Twenty-five years after that miserable morning that opened the Lebanon War, I wrote the script for the film Lebanon. I had had some previous experience with the content, but whenever I began writing, the smell of charred human flesh returned to my nostrils and I could not continue. I knew that the smell would evoke indistinct scenes that I had buried deep within my mind. After years of passive trauma and violent anger attacks, I learned to identify the ominous moment and escape it in time. Better to live in denial than not to live at all.
The year 2006 was particularly difficult. Five years had passed since my last project and I felt that I was burned out. Here and there, I produced a short commercial or promo film, but other than that, nothing. Once again, I suffered financial pressure, passivity and a maddening lack of responsibility. Once someone asked me: "What about post battle trauma? Do you experience nightmares when you remember the war?" I wish it were as simple as that, I thought to myself.
When a person feels he has nothing to lose, he takes chances. That's how I felt in early 2007 when I started to write the script for Lebanon. I had hit rock bottom and decided to go all the way. This time, I would not run away from the smell that came first, as usual, but would let it take me to the blurry scenes. I would put them in focus, dive right in and cope with it all!
Suddenly, I felt an uplift, a weird sense of euphoria. I'm not lost yet! I've still got fighting spirit. I went to bed early, got up in the morning and started to write. I was careful. I didn't tackle the topic directly but rather wrote around it. An introduction, feelers ... I waited for the smell but it did not arrive. I found myself exerting gradual efforts to restore it to my memory, but it was not there any more. The scenes were gone as well. All that remained was a dim progression of difficult, horrendous and particularly distant events.
After about a week, I realized that I had become emotionally detached. The boy of my memory was no longer myself. I felt pain for him, but it was a dull pain, the pain of a scriptwriter attached to a character he writes about. It did not matter to me whether I had been cured or was simply breaking a world record for denial. I was flooded with adrenalin and felt like a quivering missile on the launching pad a moment before liftoff. I had spit out the first draft within three weeks."
Lebanon is Samuel Maoz's first feature film. The technique he uses as a director is unique, submerging us in the claustrophobia of an army tank, its periscope our only view of the outside world. He is such a beautiful writer, let's listen to him describe his process, again, in his own words:
"I wrote Lebanon straight from my gut. No intellectual cognition charted my path. My memory of the events themselves had become dim and blurred. Scripting conventions such as introductions, character backgrounds and dramatic structure did not concern me. What remained fresh and bleeding was the emotional memory. I wrote what I felt.
I wanted to talk about emotional wounds, to tell the story of a slaughtered soul, a story that was not to be found in the body of the plot but derived from deep within it. How the hell could I put that on film? I realized I would have to shatter some basic principles and bend several rigid cinematic fixtures, creating a total experience instead of building a plot.
The decision to make an experiential movie gave rise to the cinematic concept. My basic principle called for the presentation of a personal, subjective point of view. The audience would not watch the plot unfolding before it but experience it together with the actors. Viewers would not be given any additional information, but would remain stuck with the cast inside the tank, having the same limited view of the war and hearing it only as the actors heard it. We would try to make sure that they could smell it and taste it as well, using the visuals and sound track not only to tell a story but to impart an experience. I realized that I would have to create a total experience to achieve complete emotional comprehension."
So... we spent the entire movie inside the tank with the boys, a wrenching experience. We watched the film in Hebrew with Italian and English subtitles. Here is the trailer, which is only in Hebrew:
Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog