Lebanon   

by writer/director Samuel Maoz

On the 6th of June 1982, at 06:15 in the morning, I killed a man. It wasn’t a choice, or a response to an order given to me. It was pure instinct that turned off my thoughts... and my soul... a survival instinct that grabs a man when facing death, his own death. On the 6th of June 1982, I was 20 years old.

Twenty-five years after that miserable morning that opened the Lebanon War, I wrote the script. I had had some previous experiences with the content, but whenever I began writing, the smell of war returned to my nostrils and I could not continue. I knew that the smell evoked indistinct scenes that I had buried deep within my mind. After years of passive trauma and violent anger attacks, I learned to identify the ominous moment and escape it. Better to live in denial than not to live at all.

The year 2006 was particularly difficult. Five years had passed since my last project and I felt that I was burned out. Here and there, I did some cheap industrial commercials, but other than that, nothing. Once again, I suffered financial pressure, passivity and a maddening lack of responsibility. Awake at night and asleep by day, staring at websites for hours on end, wasting hours that turned into days, months, years.... Once, someone asked me: “What about post battle trauma? Do you experience nightmares?” I remember thinking to myself: I wish it were as simple as that....

When a person feels he has nothing to lose, he takes chances. That’s how I felt in early 2007 when I started to write the script for Lebanon. I had hit rock bottom and decided to go all the way. This time, I would not run away from the smell, which came first, as usual, but would let it take me to the blurry scenes. I would put them in focus, dive right in and cope with it all! Suddenly, I felt uplifted, a weird sense of euphoria. I’m not lost yet! I’ve still got fighting spirit. I went to bed early, got up in the morning and started to write.

I was careful. I didn’t tackle the topic directly but rather wrote around it: An introduction, feelers... I waited for the smell but it did not arrive. I found myself exerting gradual efforts to restore it to my memory, but it was not there anymore. The scenes were gone as well. All that remained was a dim progression of difficult, horrendous and particularly distant events. After about a week, I realized that I had become emotionally detached. The boy of my memory was no longer me. I felt pain for him, but it was a dull pain, the pain of a scriptwriter attached to a character he writes about. It did not matter to me whether I had been cured or was simply breaking a world record for denial. I was flooded with adrenalin and felt like a missile on the launching pad a moment before liftoff.

This was not a measured, organized writing process, but rather a kind of trance. There was neither day nor night for me. I slept a few hours here and there, ate a bite or two between lines and within four weeks I had spit out the first draft.

From my point of view, the plot was not the main component. I wanted a simple plot progression that would convey the experience of a difficult and powerful war. A plot that would serve as the basis for the main story: the story of the bleeding soul. A story that was not to be found in the body of the plot, but derived from deep within it. That takes place in the hearts and souls of my tank crew. A story of horrifying dilemmas, conflicts too great for the human soul to address. A story about 20-year-old kids who lost their way in the chaos of war.

This brief writing experience was like an electric shock for me, a shock that aroused me from a long hibernation and reset all my switches. New blood flowed through my veins. I was focused. I also felt sorry about the time I had lost, but did not allow it to trouble me. I devoted myself entirely to my project, that rehabilitated me in return—a year of reciprocal relations in which both sides came out ahead! A brilliant business deal that I’m proud of to this day—because what I gained was myself.

We began shooting the complex war scenes. I wanted to accelerate from zero to a hundred, to flood the crew with my adrenalin! Everything proceeded according to plan. The first day of shooting, spirits were high and self-confidence abundant.

The only thing that troubled me was a dull pain in my left foot. By the end of the second day, my foot swelled up. I remember telling myself that I must be out of shape after all those lost years. But by the end of the third day, I could hardly walk. I limped from place to place as the pain sliced through my flesh. A doctor who came to the set told me I had an aggressive infection. I took a double dose of a powerful antibiotic and fell asleep, still in pain, but totally knocked out.

Twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep later. The pain was gone. I stole a glance at my foot and saw it was bleeding slightly but no longer swollen. Alongside it were three small pieces of shrapnel, the last testimony to the Lebanon War that my body suddenly decided to eject after 25 years. A fitting conclusion for my intentional self-healing. I threw the metal scraps into the garbage and sat down to a hearty breakfast.

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