Category: Film Reviews

Hugo 3D (US 2011)

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) with the mechanical automaton

I’m glad that I saw Hugo in 3D on a big screen and I enjoyed watching the film despite the effort of stopping those glasses sliding down my nose. On reflection, however, I’ve got mixed feelings about the enterprise. I was impressed by Martin Scorsese’s use of 3D as a medium and the ways in which he used the format to explore/promote the use of special effects in cinema – including the bizarre presentation of clips from the films of Georges Méliès in 3D! But I’m not sure that I like it as a format. It makes the cinema feel like a theatre with the over-dramatic sense of separation of characters in the depth of presentation. I much prefer the use of deep focus and staging in depth. This occurred to me in a scene which included an older man, a small boy and snowflakes – surely a reference to the famous ‘staging in depth’ scene in Citizen Kane?

Hugo is stuffed with references, making it an over-rich feast for cinephiles. But this is ostensibly a film for children (and their parents). We watched the film at the end of its run in a large multiplex auditorium with only a modest audience. The children were quiet throughout the film – which I take to mean that they were engrossed as I suspect that they would have complained if they were bored. At the end, eavesdropping on a couple of families, I understood that they had quietly enjoyed the film – but it wasn’t the film that they were expecting. I’m not competent to judge what makes a good children’s film but I think Hugo probably works best as a spectacle rather than as a story. I thought that the script was weak in places and some scenes lacked the spark that they might have had if there wasn’t so much focus on the beautiful matte paintings and 3D staging. I enjoyed all the performances, although Sacha Baron Cohen was irritating – but I can see why others found him entertaining. The promotional materials keep telling us that this is Scorsese’s ‘first family film’, but it does have several elements in common with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), one of Marty’s lesser-known movies. And if Kundun is included, he has made three films with important younger characters – mercifully not treating them with the sugary confections of Spielberg. He also cast a young Jodie Foster in a very different kind of film – Taxi Driver.

Hugo is a long film but it doesn’t deliver as much narrative as I expected. There seem to be three parts to the film. One is a story about Hugo himself and how as an orphan he needs to keep out of the clutches of the authorities in Paris in the late 1920s – personified by the ‘Station Inspector’ (Baron Cohen), a war veteran who was himself an orphan and who now seems obsessed with rounding up waifs and strays who stray onto his patch. The second is a mystery in which Hugo and a slightly older girl, Isabelle, eventually join forces to discover the secret of the automaton which Hugo’s father was attempting to repair when he died. These two narrative strands combine to provide the ‘action adventure’ material in the film. But a fair amount of the final third of the film is taken up with what is essentially a rather conventional, but brilliantly presented visual essay on early cinema delivered by Scorsese – chair of the World Cinema Foundation and prime conservator of great films. This offers a different kind of spectacle in 3D, didactic perhaps but I’m sure we are all pleased that future film audiences are shown clips from films up to 1930 in the correct ratio and colours (i.e. with all the correct tinting of prints).

Hugo is adapted (by John Logan) from a book by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2008). Selznick is a designer and illustrator as well as an author and there is a link on this website that shows some of the book’s many illustrations. This demonstrates very well that many of what might be assumed to be Scorsese’s ideas for framings and compositions are taken directly from the book. This doesn’t detract from Scorsese’s artistic achievement but it does tend to reinforce the idea that the whole project is driven by a desire to recreate a Parisian environment of the late 1920s, possibly at the expense of a coherent narrative. I’ll have to watch it again, but there were aspects of the chronology of the story that didn’t make sense to me and there are weaknesses of characterisation. Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelleis rather wasted I think as the character is given little to do. I just wonder if Marty was so entranced by the excitement generated by 3D and the enormous sets, real and virtual, he had to play with that he forgot about the story. This is surprising since he must have thought about some of the other films that aspects of the story were likely to provoke in his imagination. Two that struck me were the boy’s constant observation of the station crowds which reminded me of the boy looking at the ‘forbidden’ in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (UK 1959) (one of Scorsese’s favourites) and the ‘underworld’ existence in Paris which reminded me of The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Hugo is a children’s film but that doesn’t mean it has to lose the possibility of a complex and intriguing story.

There are some very polarised reviews of Hugo, especially in North America. I don’t think it is the masterpiece that deserves to win awards but neither is it the flop that commits the sin of boredom. I think that Scorsese spent too much money ($150 million plus?) but at least you can see it on screen. I’d urge any doubters to see the film in 3D in a big screen cinema if you can still find it. It’s perhaps the first production to really explore what 3D in modern cinema can do.

NEDS (UK/France/Italy 2010)

Conor McCarron as John

According to the film’s title sequence, NEDS stands for “non-educated delinquents”. I’m pretty sure that this is nonsense. There is an interesting debate about the origination of the term on the IMDB message boards and I take it to be a term equivalent in some way to ‘chav’ in England. Sociologist Alex Law in the Media Education Journal 39, Spring/Summer 2006/7, tells us that ‘schemie’, ‘tinkie’ or ‘gadgie’ are similar terms on the east coast of Scotland to compare with ‘neds’ on the west coast. I’m surprised that Peter Mullan as writer-director (and actor) would fall into this trap. Let’s just take it to be a term used by the middle (and lower-middle) classes to abuse working-class (white) male youth on housing estates. It may indeed have been in use in the 1970s when this film is set, but not based on this rather snotty acronym (one suggestion is that ‘Ned’ is another word for ‘Ted’, both nicknames for Edward, used to describe the ‘teddy boys’ of the 1950s).

Outline (no spoilers)

1972. John McGill is just about to leave primary school where he has been a star pupil. On the day of his school prize-giving he is threatened by a boy who is only marginally older. But John’s brother is Benny, a well-known gang-leader who soon takes revenge. John moves to the unreconstructed hell of the local Catholic high school where at first he seems to be an assertive but academically gifted student. But this doesn’t last. Eventually he is caught between the disruption at home caused by his mostly absent brother and alcoholic abusive father (Mullan) and the condescension of middle-class Glasgow. He falls in with a local gang. How will he survive?


I was completely with the film for the first half and then I gradually lost my faith in the narrative and I’m not sure why. I confess that I found the dialogue hard to follow. I’ve been familiar with it for brief periods throughout my life but I always need time to adjust to the sound of the Glaswegian voice. As a result, I’m sure that I missed some of the narrative cues contained in the dialogue. Whatever he is, John is not a ‘ned’, though some of the other characters may be. I realise that in writing that, I’m already abusing ‘neds’. So let me retract. John is a bright, intelligent boy who is insulted many times but somehow keeps his cool. Then he snaps. Perhaps that is the point that Mullan wants to make. Poverty, ignorance and a lack of ‘culture’ (in the broadest terms) saps your soul, especially when you are coralled by a strong but limited father and an authoritarian and stupid education system. You either give in to lassitude or you lose control. If that is the message of the narrative, it is a powerful indictment and is to be applauded.

But it isn’t as simple as that. Peter Mullan clearly still has issues about Catholic education and I have heard arguments that this is a narrative of redemption. I’m not that keen on this idea – it seems a very American take on resolving narratives. The resolution of NEDS is either ‘open’ or ‘closed’ depending on your view on the redemption scenario. I want to take it as ‘open’ – to the possibility that John might find himself again in later life without having to be ‘redeemed’.

As to the style of the film, I can’t remember Orphans, Mullan’s first film, that well and I haven’t seen The Magdalene Sisters. I’m therefore thrown back on Lynne Ramsay’s Glasgow-set feature, Ratcatcher and her shorts, Ken Loach’s Glasgow films and the comedies of Bill Forsyth. Casting connects this film to Loach and Laverty’s My Name is Joe (1998) in which Peter Mullan is also paired with Louise Goodall. Gary Lewis appears in that film as well and in Orphans. (IMDB fails to give the full cast list of NEDS.) But I think it is Ratcatcher (1999) (also set in the 1970s) which offers links to the fantasy sequences in NEDS. (The importance of Glasgow buses in the narrative links the film to Ratcatcher and Loach’s Carla’s Song.) The other, English rather than Scottish, links are to Alan Clarke and Shane Meadows. I did think, going into the film, that I was going to see something similar to Scum (at least from the trailer). However, I don’t think that NEDS has the relentless drive of Scum or the two strong performances at the centre of that film (Ray Winstone and Mick Ford). That isn’t necessarily a criticism of NEDS. Conor McCarron in the central role of the older John gave a stand-out performance – even if not all the critics thought so (Gregg Forrest is also good as the younger John). This Is England seems somehow more optimistic and lighter – despite its harrowing final sequence. All of these films are ‘youth pictures’ and associated with the idea of ‘coming of age’.

Overall, NEDS is an interesting film, well worth anyone’s time and I suspect that with further acquaintance I might get even more from it. It manages to tell us something about the lives of working-class boys in urban Britain.  I presume that it will be dubbed or subtitled for North America.

Dhobi Ghat (India 2011)

Monica Dogra as Shai

Screen International‘s reviewer described Dhobi Ghat as an arthouse film after seeing it at the Toronto Festival. Mike Goodridge suggested that the film could play in specialised cinemas internationally, but he (correctly) forecast that because the film stars Aamir Khan it would be released on what he called “the Indian circuit” (i.e the 17 different territories that take Bollywood releases) to avoid piracy. And indeed that has been the case with a successful release in UK multiplexes. (I noticed too that the film was playing in Kuala Lumpur on the circuit.) This raises all kinds of questions about production/distribution of what Goodridge refers to as the ‘new independent Indian Cinema’.

Dhobi Ghat is an Aamir Khan Production, written and directed by Kiran Rao – Khan’s partner. Since Khan is the Number 1 star in Bollywood at the moment, we should perhaps question what ‘independent’ means in this context. Although the film sometimes looks as if it was shot ‘on the run’ (Wikipedia refers to ‘guerilla shooting’), it was in fact a major production as evidenced by the lists of VFX and extensive crew roles. Currently there are two different overall budget figures across the web. The film cost either 5 crores or 11 crores (i.e. around £500,000 or £1.4 million). I suspect the latter figure includes a major marketing budget. Even £500,000 would get you quite a long way on an independent Indian shoot – especially if Khan himself works without a fee.

Prateik as Munnah the laundryman who wants to become a film star.

The idea behind the film derives from the interconnections between four very different characters in Mumbai (the alternative title is Mumbai Diaries). Arun (Aamir Khan) is an artist – a loner who grudgingly attends his own exhibition opening. Here he meets Shai, an American investment banker whose father still owns property in Mumbai. She is on a ‘sabbatical’, supposedly researching SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in South Asia, but seemingly more interested in pursuing her hobby of photography. Both of them use the same laundry service offered by a dhobi nicknamed Munnah – a young Muslim from Bihar. The fourth character only exists on videotapes that Arun finds in a drawer when he moves to a new apartment. Yasmin is an unhappy young woman trapped in a loveless marriage as a new arrival in Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh. She makes the videotapes to send to her brother back home. The tapes then provide stimulus for Arun who sets out on a new project.


I’m not sure what I make of this film. On the one hand, it is a beautifully-produced and engaging narrative (though not a conventional story for mainstream audiences). But it is also rather contrived and conventional with imagery that is almost too ‘composed’ in its presentation of Mumbai. (The photos that Shai takes are extremely well-composed and look like the belong in a gallery.) Omar offers an excellent analysis of how Mumbai is presented and he (and Shubhajit) clearly love the film. I certainly enjoyed watching it and I recognise that it’s nearly thirty years since I experienced Bombay (as it still was then), but although there were some streetscapes that I recognised, I did feel that mostly the film repeated images from other films. Partly, I blame the soundtrack by the critically-acclaimed Argentinian Gustavo Santaolalla. The use of music made me think of Satyajit Ray’s ‘composed’ films, but it tended to remove the sense of noisy bustle on the streets, calming everything down. Sorry, the music is beautiful, but I think I would have preferred either A. R. Rahman or the more direct sound of Salaam Bombay!. The critical reaction to the film has come up with the idea that ‘Mumbai’ itself is a fifth character and there is a general consensus that “only in Mumbai” could we find these kinds of stories. Certainly I think it’s true that Mumbai is the Indian equivalent of Los Angeles – attracting dreamers and those seeking their fortune (or just a living) from all over India. Rao herself has claimed that the script was based to some extent on her own experiences living in the city and the issues concerning class, caste and religion in many scenes are well handled.

The contrivance comes from the introduction of Yasmin’s tapes at the start of the film when we don’t know their provenance. The film starts with wobbly ‘amateur’ video footage shot on Mini-DV with Yasmin’s voiceover. I felt some uneasiness around me in the cinema until more conventional composed images shot on 35 and 16mm appeared. The tapes intrigue us partly through this introduction – whereas the rest of the narrative is presented in a linear fashion. In the last part of the film we are offered quite conventional narrative resolutions in terms of crime or romance dramas. The four characters are well-drawn but what happens to them seemed familiar to me in terms of Bombay stories. There is nothing wrong with that of course, only that the film sometimes promises to transcend a conventional Mumbai-set drama.

The casting sets Aamir Khan against three newcomers (at least as leads). Khan exudes starpower. He plays the mostly sullen loner and his muscle-toned figure and intense stares dominate several scenes. The two women (with Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin) are excellent but the revelation is the dhobi wallah, played by Prateik – who turns out to be the son of India’s greatest star of parallel cinema, Smita Patil. Prateik would never have known his mother who died when he was only a few weeks old. But mention of his mother raises the question of how this film fits in with the tradition of parallel cinema. Aamir Khan himself refers to the parallel tradition in interviews. I think that the film points in the right direction and its success (both commercially and critically) means that it may be easier to get other similar films made. Certainly Kiran Rao has real talent as does the first-time cinematographer, Tushar Kanti Ray and the trio of actors. Aamir Khan continues to be a fascinating filmmaker as actor/producer/director. The screening of Dhobi ghat was preceded by a teaser trailer for the next Aamir Khan Productions release in the Summer entitled Delhi Belly. The short clip looked like an hommage to Danny Boyle and Trainspotting!

Returning to the discussion of ‘specialised film’ status, I doubt whether many people in the audience at Cineworld were from the usual UK specialised audience. If someone like Clare Binns at City Screen, or perhaps the ICO, were to put the film into UK specialised cinemas, I’m confident that they would find an audience.

Here is an HD trailer that offers a glimpse of the visual beauty of Dhobi ghat:

In this interesting clip, Kiran Rao and Aamir Khan demonstrate how they set up some of the street scenes in one of the famous thoroughfares in ‘Old Bombay’.

The excellent official website for the film offers a good range of resources (thanks Omar)

Winter’s Bone (US 2010)

Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly (Photo: Sebastian Mlynarski)

This year’s ‘must see’ American Independent is surely Winter’s Bone, which I found to be every bit as good as the enthusiastic reviews in most of the press and across the internet. However, I went into the screening remembering a discussion on BBC2’s The Review Show in which Pat Kane was the only dissenting voice arguing that the film was some kind of poverty porn and quite unrealistic (because there was no mention of welfare). I usually go with Kane (a hardline Scots socialist) but this time I think he had the wrong take on the film.

For anyone who has missed the hype, Winter’s Bone is an adaptation of a novel by Daniel Woodrell set in a distinctive region in South-West Missouri, part of the Ozarks Plateau. The script was co-written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini and the film was directed by Granik. Since the central character, Ree Dolly, is a young woman and the narrative is driven by a group of women from a distinctive community, the film has been heralded as a significant example of ‘women’s cinema’. Jennifer Lawrence gives a standout performance and looks set to follow Vera Farmiga whose career was boosted by her performance in Granik’s previous flick, Down to the Bone (2006).

Lawrence plays Ree, a 17 year-old with more responsibility than most young women of her age. Her mother is incapacitated and Ree looks after her two younger siblings. There is no obvious income and Ree has to accept support from her neighbours. But one day she learns that her absent father has put up the home as a bail bond. Since he has now failed to show up for a court hearing, she can expect the bailiffs in the next few days. Ree has no choice – she must find her father. But that is no easy matter in the intensely close but isolated Ozark community where she has many relatives but only a few (female) friends. Her father used to operate a lab in the backwoods making crystal meth. After his disappearance, no-one wants to give Ree any information whatsoever.

I’ve seen references to the literature and adaptations of Cormac McCarthy, but although I can see the argument, I think McCarthy’s narratives have a different feel, possibly because of a very different sense of landscape. The film’s title is important – it’s bleak and desolate in the woods in winter. It’s also dark and Gothic. On the same Review Show as Kane, Tom Devine made the point that many of the people who settled in the Ozarks were Scots-Irish Protestants. Others were Germans, so the dark forest and windswept moor are in the genes no doubt. Some of the power in the film comes from the casting of actors from the region. Lawrence and Dale Dickey who plays her nemesis/saviour are from neighbouring Kentucky and some of the others are from Missouri. I think that the women in particular have some of the strongest faces I’ve seen in a while. I can believe that they could be extremely loyal and loving – but also implacable enemies, ruthless in exacting revenge. Ree has to risk asking questions where she shouldn’t and discovering things that might be better left alone. But she’s a strong character herself. As well as landscape and character Debra Granik offers assured direction and works well with cinematographer Michael McDonough who presents the chilly terrain in careful compositions. But I guess for hillbilly music fans like me the really shattering aspect of the film is the beautiful singing and playing, especially from Marideth Sisco (check out her website with interesting info on the film as well as her music). Perhaps because I’m used to the songs and the lyrics about God and love and death etc., I was slightly less surprised than some others at what happens in the film. My thought was that back in the 1970s we might have seen something like this as a genre movie in mainstream cinemas, possibly with Levon Helm (in the 1980s) or Harry Dean Stanton as casting from the region. It would have had slightly more black humour and been less composed and rigorous perhaps, but I do think that mainstream Hollywood could once make pictures as good as this on a regular basis.

I expect the film to gather nominations come the awards season. It’s a film about strong women but I’m sure it’s a movie for men and women alike in the audience. If men don’t think it’s for them, I hope partners drag them along.

Here’s the US trailer:

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle 29/9/2010 (Thanks Mike)

The Time That Remains (France/Italy/Belgium/UK 2009)

The impact of the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970 is felt in the Suleiman household.

What a terrific film! It is astonishing that someone could become such an accomplished and controlled filmmaker after only a handful of features spread over many years. The Time That Remains is intensely moving, very funny and incisive in its critique. It won’t please everybody and I confess that I only ‘got’ parts of it because of the investment I made in exploring writer-director Elia Suleiman’s previous film, Divine Intervention (2002).

Like the earlier film, The Time That Remains is a sharp commentary on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian town of Nazareth which was ‘incorporated’ into the state of Israel in 1948. This time the historical events provide the structure of the film that tells the story of the director’s own family. The film opens in the present but soon switches to the moment of the Arab defeat in July 1948 when Elia’s father Fouad is a young toolmaker providing the local men with weapons. The narrative then moves forward to re-visit the Suleiman family when the son (referred to as ‘E.S.’) is first a young schoolboy, then an older student and finally in the present when the director, playing himself, visits his elderly mother.

The linear narrative with clear historical references makes the film in some ways more accessible than the series of sketches which detail contemporary life in Nazareth as seen in Divine Intervention. The recognisable structure means that, at least for me, it doesn’t feel as comedic or surreal as the earlier film (which also featured Suleiman Senior), though there are moments of surreal comedy. For instance, a running gag sees a next door neighbour who routinely gets drunk – in the first few scenes dowsing himself in petrol and trying to immolate himself and in later scenes claiming that his drunken state gives him powers that enable him to pluck Israeli planes from the sky. “It’s only logical” he says. (This is a Christian Arab community, so drinking arak is not as shocking as some commentators imply.) Other tropes of the director’s style also carry over from the previous film. He himself remains a largely passive character who never speaks – though he has some interesting non-verbal interactions with his mother. In several scenes the camera is kept static while comic scenes unfold in long shot – a hospital corridor is shown from outside the building as police and doctors play a game of tag with a wounded man, pulling his stretcher trolley one way and then the other.

Apart from the opening wartime scene, which includes a comic commentary on the failures of the Arab armies in 1948 (and which disturbingly shows the Israeli soldiers dressed much like British ‘tommies’ – which many of them had been – committing atrocities in Nazareth), the film is more subtle in its critique than Divine Intervention. Or at least, that’s how it felt to me. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian seems to like the film but complains that the title isn’t explained. He suggests that it signals a kind of acceptance. I don’t agree with this and Suleiman himself offers this statement (which if it first appears elliptical, does, I think, make sense:

“The [title] of this film is a political term that describes the Palestinians who remain on their own land, who are insiders and absentees, while they remain on their own land,” Suleiman continued, “It’s a very political term which I appropriated . . . from my personal context being present and absent, someone who is an outsider and an insider, someone who does not live in one place but always departs.” (from indiewire, May 2009)

Suleiman himself is in some ways a typical Palestinian filmmaker – ‘exilic’ in his perspective as an outsider and insider. The film is essentially his own observations on the memories bestowed to him by his father and the letters and cards sent by other relatives who moved to Jordan. As is often the case, the most powerful statements against the occupation are the most personal. In school, the young ES is challenged for claiming that the Americans are ‘colonialists’ and ‘imperialists’. The (Arab) school wins a prize in a Hebrew singing competition. A screening of Spartacus in the school stimulates the children’s sense of resistance – as their teacher attempts to protect them from the film’s portrayal of sexual desire.

Suleiman’s work is often compared to Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton in terms of sight gags and to Buñuel in its surrealism. This film has also prompted references to Fellini for its personal histories (i.e. like Amarcord). I think all these references can be justified but I worry that they deflect attention from Suleiman’s original, personal and highly political perspective on a specific tragedy – the occupation of Palestine.

This fascinating Facebook page on the film offers links to extracts, photos and background materials.

Here is the UK trailer:

Seen at Chapter, Cardiff Cinema 2, 29/7/10

Lebanon (Israel/France/Germany 2009)

The view from the tank in Lebanon

This is the third highly celebrated Israeli film set during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to have appeared in recent years. It follows Beaufort (2007) and Waltz With Bashir (2008) and in 2009 it won the Golden Lion at Venice, the biggest prize so far for the ‘new’ Israeli Cinema.

This seemed to me to be the ‘hardest’ of the three, the most focused on ‘war really is shit’ and the least compromised by Israeli ideologies. It’s unfortunate then that a) I had to watch it during another week when the Israeli Defence Forces have killed Palestinians and aid volunteers on a Turkish ship in international waters and b) that it found itself at the centre of the boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival’s ‘Tel Aviv focus’ in 2009 (a boycott which I would have supported). Lebanon should be judged on its own merits even if the overall Israeli government policy should be condemned.

The film is unique in that apart from the opening and closing shots, the narrative is presented as either taking place inside a tank or as viewed through the tank driver’s or commander’s eyepiece. This intensely claustrophobic location is an important element in the story. Writer-director Samuel (Shmulik) Maoz was himself the gunner in a tank like this during the invasion and it has taken him more than 25 years to tell his story. Waltz With Bashir was made on a similar basis, but compared to Lebanon seems almost lightweight. I’m sure it isn’t, but in cinematic terms that’s how the comparison feels to me.

The plot outline of Lebanon is very simple. A tank with its crew of four – three who know each other and a new guy – is ordered to advance into Lebanon and join a small group of paratroopers. The paras officer is in overall charge and he leads the combined group into a village which has been bombed by the IDF (the ironically named Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces). But something has gone wrong in the planning and instead of a few Lebanese villagers, the group meets fierce resistance from Syrian soldiers. Can the Israelis extricate themselves – with the help of a couple of Phalangists (Lebanese Christians allied to the Israelis) as guides?

What follows is hard to watch but never less than engrossing. Conditions in the tank are awful but are made worse by the conscripts’ lack of discipline and professionalism. These films generally get criticised for their portrayal of young Israelis under pressure and the absence of any detailed representation of the Arab ‘other’ they are fighting. I don’t think that charge stands against Lebanon. We feel for both the solders inside the tank and those killed or made homeless by its actions. The ‘view from the tank’ becomes a powerful device on at least two occasions – the first when an elderly Arab man stares defiantly straight at the camera in close-up while next to him his companion at a café table lies with his head in a pool of blood and the second when a woman staggers out of a building and comes up to the soldiers. I confess at this point that I wondered if she was suddenly going to plant a bomb on the tank. The film teeters on the edge of a Hollywood-style narrative and a realist humanist representation. The latter wins out and the finest moments are those when the confines of the tank force actions of humanity onto the soldiers – such as helping a shackled prisoner to pee in a can. I’m reminded of my favourite piece of writing about war when, in Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell writes about seeing an enemy soldier running along his trench lines. Orwell knows that he should shoot him but when he sees that the man is trying to hold up his trousers and is clearly suffering from the runs, he asks himself “How can you shoot someone with their trousers round their ankles?”

Lebanon has had some mixed reviews. On IMDB, war movie fans and ex-soldiers complain that the film isn’t realistic in the depiction of the procedures the tank crew follow or don’t follow – which rather misses the point. This a representation of a nightmare. It isn’t about ‘winning’, it explains nothing about why the tank is there, it doesn’t set out to critique policies or politicians or military commanders. It uses a restricted cast and location to tell us something about the nightmare. What I think I will remember, as much as the stifling physical confines of the tank, are the noises – the hydraulics of the turret turning, the viewfinder changing its zoom setting, the roar of the engine and the explosions and screams outside, the orders barked over the radio and the occasional use of music. All of these should, I think, be experienced in the cinema. I suspect much will be lost on a TV set.