“Beaufort” dramatizes an Israeli military unit’s withdrawal from a mountain fortress that Israel has long occupied in Lebanon, with an emphasis on the anticipation and anxiety experienced by young soldiers stationed at the fort.
The result, courtesy of writer-director Joseph Cedar (“Campfire”), has merit both as a site-specific war story and as a slice of universal soldierhood.
More philosophical than political, the drama transpires at the history-exuding Beaufort fortress and castle, built on a Lebanese mountain by Crusader hands. Israel captured Beaufort from the PLO in 1982 and, 18 years later, withdrew from Lebanon and blew up the fort. Adapted by Cedar and Ron Leshem from a Leshem novel, the drama presents the 2000 evacuation.
Delivering predicament over plot, Cedar takes us into the labyrinthic, bunker-like structure where weary soldiers — rule-obeying commander Liraz (Oshri Cohen) and broody medic Koris (Itay Tiran) among them — share small talk and big-picture reflections as they await orders to vacate Beaufort, destroy the fort and go home.
For a lengthy spell, no instructions come. The delay increases their risk of dying in the Hezbollah missile attacks that occur regularly, and the once-dedicated men question whether the Israeli military truly values their lives.
Unlike the other current Israeliimport, “The Band’s Visit,” “Beaufort” doesn’t charm you. Some of the guys — one has a girlfriend in New Jersey, one sings like an angel — are war-flick clichés. After a character gets his close-up and details his dream, you can expect something terrible to befall him.
But Cedar is better at supplying plight than personality, and as these soldiers joke around, watch TV accounts of the situation, mourn their dead and worry about survival, the drama thickens and deepens.
While Cedar, a former Israeli infantryman who has described the 2000 withdrawal as the “most optimistic event in Israel’s recent history,” doesn’t overtly comment on Israel’s Lebanon occupation, he imbues the film with a gripping unease.
Initially slow-going, the individual stories jell into a compelling picture of the frustrations of this particular war and — as suggested by the presence of Beaufort itself — the futility and tragedy of war in general.
There’s moving stuff here. Scenes in which the soldiers support one another in environs where death happens mundanely and senselessly are particularly affecting. Humorous bits nicely offset the grimness. The climax indeed delivers the bang. The private moments that follow are even more memorable.