October 20, 2008
Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****
2007 was a terrific year for foreign language films, with titles like 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Persepolis, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Band's Visit, The Orphanage and others. So when the Academy came up with its five Best Foreign Language Film nominees, it was a little shocking and surprising that the list not only ignored the year's best films, but also that it was so obscure. A closer look revealed that all five of them were war films, which was not so surprising. And all five seemed ready-made for awards committees, none more so than the winner, the overrated Holocaust drama The Counterfeiters, and the brain-dead battle epic Mongol. (Nikita Mikhalkov's 12, from Russia and Andrzej Wajda's Katyn, from Poland, have yet to be released here.) Happily, of those nominees, Israeli director Joseph Cedar's Beaufort proved refreshingly different and markedly superior to its competition.
Set in 2000 near the Lebanese border, Beaufort tells the story of a band of Israeli soldiers stationed in an old fortress at the end of 18 years' worth of occupation. The Israeli army prepares to withdraw the troops and shut down the fort, but the process takes forever. Meanwhile, the troops suffer needless attacks, numbing boredom and helpless frustration. A bomb expert, played by Ohad Knoller -- a familiar face from Eytan Fox's films Yossi & Jagger and The Bubble, as well as Brian De Palma's Redacted -- arrives to help clear a deadly device from the road, and the troops' commanding officer (Oshri Cohen) questions his own effectiveness in battle. Cedar, who also directed the very interesting Campfire (2004), prefers to let his expansive set and hard-boiled characters tell the story from a ground level rather than implying a commentary about the bigger picture and the futile nature of war. It's as if a weight were lifted, and the 132-minute film moves like a breeze.
The soldiers scuttle like beetles through the twisty underground tunnels, and the play of light on the octagonal walls makes for some striking effects (one of these amazing shots was used for the film's poster). Cedar eventually succumbs to the urge for speeches and overwrought emotion, but Beaufort is still a solid film.
Kino's 2008 DVD release comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette (23 minutes) with actual behind-the-scenes footage and not just talking heads, deleted scenes, trailers and a still gallery. The audio is available in both 2.0 and 5.1. Interestingly, the director has chosen to master the DVD in 1:1.85 widescreen rather than the theatrical 1:2.35 aspect ratio. In a note, he explains that he believes it will make home viewing more intimate.
Posted by cphillips at October 20, 2008 4:16 PM