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In the Newsroom

September 29, 2009
Heroes, Hollywood and making it through the day

Martin Himel

Martin Himel is a special correspondent for Worldfocus.  He blogs here about why he chose to highlight the films of Joseph Cedar for his signature story on Israeli cinema.

Joseph Cedar is probably Israel’s most highly acclaimed director. His movie “Beaufort” was also nominated for an Oscar. It focuses on life in an Israeli frontline bunker on the Lebanese front.

What makes Cedar’s films different from Hollywood war films is there are no heroes, no super-fighters who change the tide of events. The characters are almost always very human, frightened, small, scared, trying to survive day by day — just trying to get through it all and make it home to family, girlfriends and those that care.

For most combat servicemen, whether Israeli, American, Lebanese, or other, that experience of just “trying to make it through alive” is the dominant motivation, the overwhelming drive.

They are not the resource for those larger-than-life Hollywood characters, but those “small people” are the essence of Israeli film. That’s what makes the movies unique, credible and powerful.

Joseph Cedar himself was a paratrooper . He tasted combat first hand. His goal as a director was not to make a grandiose statement of war. He simply wants to put us — the viewer — in the bunker, with his friends, with their sweaty clothes, their wounds, their tired unshaven faces, and their claustrophobic living space.

As a veteran foreign correspondent, I have covered several Middle East and Balkan wars. Watching films like Saving Private Ryan or Born on the Forth of July made me cringe just a bit. The characters were too big for life. It was pure Hollywood.

In Cedar’s film “Beaufort,” I felt I was in the bunker with the soldiers.  I felt their terror with each incoming shell. I felt their anguish when they lost a friend.

Real images from the past — almost forgotten — vividly come back when I watched this film. I remember the American Marines compound in South Beirut in 1983. It was just hours after a suicide bomber plowed a truck laden with explosives into the headquarters killing over 200 soldiers.

We were barricaded into a bunker, soldiers at the ready with fingers on the trigger, terrified. The next bomber might smash into the compound and claim more lives. There were no heroes; there were a lot of tears; there were many frightened young men just trying to get through that day, then another — just to get back home.

– Martin Himel

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