Israeli anti-war film premieres in Berlin

A scene from the new Israeli film, ´Beaufort.´ ()

A scene from the new Israeli film, ´Beaufort.´ ()

BERLIN (JTA) — Throughout the ages, warriors have hidden behind the
stone walls of Beaufort, a 12th century hilltop fortress in southern
Lebanon. Now, in a new Israeli film, Beaufort has become a symbol for the futility — and endlessness — of war.

A stark, almost allegorical film about the Israeli pullout from Lebanon
in 2000, “Beaufort” had its world premiere Feb. 14 at the International
Berlinale Film Festival. Reviewers lauded the film but wondered if
European audiences would embrace it, given their tendency to snub
Israel.

It’s one of six Israeli productions screened here this year, and the
only one in the festival’s top-notch “Competition” section.

Written by director Joseph Cedar and journalist Ron Leshem, “Beaufort”
opens in Israel in March. U.S. distribution also is expected.

Other films with Jewish themes included Brazilian director Cao
Hamburger’s “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation,” which takes a
child’s view of Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship, and “I Have
Never Forgotten You — The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal,” a
tribute to the late Austrian Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter,
directed by American Richard Trank, which also had its world premiere
in Berlin. The Berlinale closes Feb. 18.

“Beaufort,” filmed in
northern Israel in the spring of 2006, is an unusual war story: The
enemy is never seen and the Israelis never fire a shot, something one
German reviewer considered improbable and thus a weakness in the film.

But he was missing the point. Here, “war is a force of nature,” Cedar said.

There is constant tension in “Beaufort,” as young soldiers prepare to
abandon this last Israeli outpost after 18 years of Israeli occupation
of a security zone in southern Lebanon. When a soldier is commanded to
override his fear at one point, the film gives its first hard lesson.

“It’s not a question of how to win but a question of who will survive,” Cedar said.

Cedar, who was born in New York in 1968, moved to Israel with his
family when he was 6. He served in the Israeli army in Lebanon.

“Beaufort” is his third film and logistically was the most difficult to
shoot, he said. On a hilltop similar to Beaufort, he had to build
bunkers from thousands of tons of concrete, coordinating with the
United Nations “so they would be sure we were not creating something
permanent.”

At the end of the film, the entire structure was blown up.

“I thought that last scene was very important,” Cedar said. “It puts an
end to the cycle of violence. But then it turns out that there is a new
chapter.”

He was referring to last summer’s conflict with Hezbollah, which began in July after filming was over.

Though only half of the actors had served in the Israeli military —
something that reportedly angered the Israeli public — the young men
quickly took their roles “to another level,” conveying emotions of
loneliness, longing and fear.

“Most war movies create a hero that overcomes his fear,” Cedar
said. “In this movie it is the reverse: The bravest thing he does is
accept his fear. When he freezes, his body is telling him, you need to
protect yourself. Don’t go out there. Survive!”

In one
scene, the father of a slain soldier wonders if he raised his children
correctly — to love life above everything else. It’s the closest Cedar
comes to moralizing about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

That
monologue was based on something Cedar’s own father said. His father’s
parents “were very protective, and he resented it. He was not allowed
to cross the street alone until he was 14 years old,” Cedar said. Yet
Cedar and his siblings go scuba diving, climb mountains and serve in
combat units.

“My father once said, ‘I don’t know if I gave you the survival tool of fear, of running away from danger,’ ” Cedar said.

In “Beaufort,” Cedar explores the landscape of fear that he came to
know as a soldier, and reveals the survival instinct as the true hero.

NEXT STORY