Beaufort (2007)

Director: Joseph Cedar
Cast:  Alon AboutboulAdi Adouan, Yaakov Ahimeir
Plot: The story of a group of Israeli soldiers stationed in an outpost prior to the withdrawal of forces of 2000.

Genre: Action/Drama/War

Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - best foreign language film. Won Best Director and nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin).
Runtime: 131min
Rating: NC16 for some war violence and coarse language.


A Silver Bear winner for Best Director at Berlin, Beaufort is a war film that does not conform to the rules set by its genre. It is not visceral, has no in-your-face violence and gore, has no leading heroic character whom we can root for, and is certainly lacking in action in its purest sense. Yet it impresses because it manages to be compelling in its own unique way.

Screened in Singapore for the first time at the 18th Israel Film Festival, Beaufort tells the story of a group of Israeli soldiers on enemy territory, defending a Lebanese mountain fort that they have conquered, which has become sort of like a base to them for the past few months. As they wait patiently for orders from their government to withdraw, they have to protect themselves against exploding shells, and the occasional missile that threatens to wreck their base.

For most parts, Beaufort is a slow-moving and meditative drama that focuses on the brotherhood and camaraderie of the soldiers marooned on an enemy site that is steeped in a long history of bloodshed. Director Joseph Cedar takes his time to develop the characters, of which there are quite a few. Some of them die, and there is enough reason to feel aggrieved about their unfortunate fates.

Cedar underlines his strength as a skillful director by milking every ounce of tension in many of the film’s highly suspenseful scenes. Two sequences immediately come to mind. The first is a sequence that Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker2009) would have been proud of. It shows a soldier who is trained in bomb disposal trying to locate an unexploded device. He holds a metal rod, prodding the ground as he takes one step after another. The unease and unpredictability in this sequence is taken to the extreme, with no avenue of assurance offered at all to the viewer.

The second sequence comes much later. A soldier makes a last trip to his bunker to see if anything important is left behind before his comrades blow the whole place up with hundreds of mines already wired together. The overwhelming sense of dread caused by the fear that the soldier may be blown to pieces anytime, accidentally or otherwise, may be too much to bear for some viewers.

The sense of location captured in Beaufort is quite excellent. Wide shots of the surrounding wilderness highlight the isolation as faced by the soldiers. This is balanced by claustrophobic shots of man-made maze-like tunnels in the fort that threaten to disturb the spatial orientation of any soldier trekking through it. Even though we see the film from a restrictive perspective, that of the Israeli soldiers, Cedar still makes sure that we are well aware of “larger presences” i.e. the enemy and the Israeli government that are controlling the fates of these soldiers.

While clearly an anti-war film detailing the emotional and psychological impact that war has on soldiers, Beaufort also succeeds in portraying these brave fighters as a cohesive unit, bonded by a common goal (in this case, them withdrawing from an enemy zone). The sad thing, and this is prevalent in the world we live in, is that these soldiers are ultimately used as faceless pawns in an elaborate game of hard core politics that intelligent and mature grownups play. A game that certainly has no consideration for human empathy. 



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