The most recent nominees for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film were a head-scratching bunch. Picked from a year packed with high-profile, accolades-rich films from abroad, the Oscar shortlist was oddly devoid of such features, instead spotlighting a handful of obscurities mostly unseen stateside. The nominations set industry insiders, critics and film-nuts aflutter. Were these really the best of the best?
At last, the populace at-large can answer that question as said films trickle into the general marketplace. Recently released on DVD, the nominated film from Israel, Beaufort, details the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Beaufort Castle, a Crusadesera fortified mountain outpost in southern Lebanon occupied by Israel from 1982-2000. When orders to vacate Beaufort and destroy it upon exit are relayed to the small band guarding the keep, the decision is met with relish by all save the brash young commanding officer (finely played by Oshri Cohen) who can’t bring himself to abandon.
Beaufort is the quietest of war films. Like the stoic Beaufort monolith, the film is heavy, with long stretches of contemplation where soldiers brotherly reminisce about loves, foods and the world outside. This calm masks a nervous tension, however, one amped by suffocating claustrophobia in the fort’s ancient internal maze and exploded by devastating Hezbollah shelling.
The futility of warfare exists between these tonal shifts, where friends heartily dance and joke one minute only to become disfigured bloody messes the next. It’s unsettling and intense but allows Beaufort a sober grounding absent from war epics that prize action over introspection. Grade: B