Movie review - Beaufort

- by Alexander Jones - 

Here in Israel, another 3-week, total lockdown has been announced. While it scuppers any plans for us to relaunch physical tours, it is a great time for readers of this blog to join any one of our 10 weekly online tours, or to watch a great film or two about Israeli and Palestinian issues. We have an ever growing list available here. Our latest movie review looks at the Oscar-nominated, 2007 war movie, Beaufort.

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First, a bit of background history. Beaufort is a Crusader castle, which today stands atop a hill in southern Lebanon. Over the past several hundred years, it was controlled by Christian Knights from Europe, followed by the Mamluk Sultan Baibars, later the Ottomans, then the French under their mandate for Lebanon, the South Lebanese Army during the early part of the Lebanese Civil War, and from 1982 to 2000, Israel.

Beaufort castle in south Lebanon. Build by the crussades, destroyed and  rebuild throuw the centuries. Last rebu… | Germany castles, Beaufort  castle, English castles

Israel invaded southern Lebanon first in 1978 and then again in 1982, ostensibly to protect its northern towns from attack by Palestinian militants. After their expulsion from Jordan in the Black September conflict of 1970, the hills of southern Lebanon became the most important base for many Palestinian Liberation Organisation fighters. This was all a major contributing factor to the chaos of the Lebanese Civil War, and strategic high points overlooking rivers, roads and populated towns were important to control. Beaufort was one such place.

Although its defences were mostly built in the Middle Ages, and Israel quickly conquered the castle in the first day of the invasion, the fortress’s defences proved their worth in modern times too. Israeli troops called Beaufort home for 18 years, withstanding numerous attempts to dislodge them. The film revolves around the last Israeli soldiers there, as the army’s withdrawal from Lebanon goes on around them and as the troops begin packing up.

Despite moments of violence and moments of calm, moments of heroism and moments of cowardice, the film’s overall balance strikes a solid case for the futility of war. This is certainly the lasting impression from the movie. Watching the Israeli soldiers prepare to destroy the very position they spent years fighting to hold is a very powerful way of explaining the geopolitics of Israel leaving their Christian Lebanese allies (the South Lebanon Army, or SLA) to battle Hezbollah alone. 

Beaufort - Film - The New York Times

Although the runtime is over 2 hours, it feels like we get just a snippet of each of the character's lives. Personally I found it difficult to distinguish which of the handsome soldiers were which, and empathy when one or other inevitably fell was lacking. Perhaps that was a deliberate film making technique. In war after all, the foot soldiers are often expendable pieces.

Having never fought in a war myself its hard to verify this fact independently, but many who have argue this is a highly realistic war movie. The long periods of monotony broken by extreme violence and paralysing fear are vividly displayed. Frankly, the long periods of monotony don’t make for the most compelling cinema, but do add to the overall atmosphere of tension and unease. The film has been criticised by some in the Israeli right for being too soft, but at the same time it does seem to do a good job of reproducing the culture of the conscripted armed forces. Viewers unfamiliar with Hebrew or army jargon may be missing out on some of these nuances and I myself was lucky enough to watch with an Israeli who served, who could fill in the blanks when they talk about, for example, ‘flowers’ (a casualty) or ‘small ones’ (minutes).

As a closing thought, despite 18 years of work by the IDF to make southern Lebanon more secure, it is ironic that an anti-war film which revolves around the mythology of one specific castle was unable to be shot anywhere near Beaufort itself. Israeli-Lebanese relations remain tense (most recently fire was exchanged in July 2020) and the border is firmly shut to locals, tourists and film crews alike. A rival fort in the Israeli occupied Golan, Nimrod Castle, was used instead, even as several characters talk wistfully about the possibility of their children visiting Beaufort as tourists in the future. That seems some way off today…



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