What a pity that the people behind two radically different but equally peace-loving specimens of Israel's increasingly lively national cinemaBeaufort and The Band's Visitgot into a shouting match about which deserved to go forward for Best Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards. Like many in the current wave of antiwar movies, Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, which took the Silver Bear at last year's Berlin Film Festival, traffics in the mad illogic of battles whose long-forgotten purpose has hardened into mindless routine. But this hushed, atmospheric mood piece, intricately scripted by Cedar and novelist Ron Leshem, is no action pictureunless you count the steady put-put of Hezbollah shells landing uncomfortably close to a small army unit left to guard the 12th-century castle that in 2000 is all that remains of Israel's abortive 18-year war with Lebanon. Led by a commander progressively unhinged by the attrition of his and his country's heroic ideals, the menboys, really have little to sustain them but their own black humor and the dreary, absurd daily business of watching over nothing much. We learn just enough about the lives and dreams of each soldier to make us weep for the shocking egalitarianism of death, which rides roughshod over the cautious and the reckless alike. Cedar's understated humanismpassionate but never glib or easyrenders all the more painful the unstated coda that, six years after Israel's retreat from Lebanon, the wounds opened all over again.
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