(The Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival is long over, but there are still a number of films from MSPIFF that I was struck by and plan on putting forth at least two cents on them, as time allows.)
Faced with the question of what were some of the best films that I saw at the festival, the film at the forefront of my mind was Beaufort. It had the advantage of being in the later days of the festival, and it was the final film I saw that left a lasting impression. With only the ambiguous synopsis in the catalog to go on, Beaufort caught me completely off guard.
Taking place in the Israeli occupied encampment at the historic Beaufort Castle, Lebanon, the film chronicles the waning days before the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) eventual evacuation in 2000. The Israeli forces captured Beaufort in 1982 during the Lebanon War and maintained it as a base for observation. Their abandonment of the fort may have been politically inevitable, but Hezbollah was also doing everything to make it appear as though it was not a complacent departure. In return, the IDF left little but rubble, blowing up structures they had put in place as well as damaging the historical castle that is nearly a century old. Adapted from the novel by the same name, author Ron Leshem also had a hand in the screenplay.
Beaufort is a war movie for the 21st century with little glory and no heroes. Isolated from the historical context, the film is more of a psychological horror movie with it's slow pace and unexpected moments. The claustrophobic cavernous bunkers in which the soldiers live are contrasted with the danger of the bright open vistas they are supposed to patrol, leaving little space for the viewer to feel comfortable. Beaufort throws you into an environment that seems like an atypical military scenario with men making men's decisions, and some of them men quietly dissenting. But it very quickly pulls you out of the narrative stereotypes and presents you with something much more human: a commander who must be sure of himself, not because he is, but because that is his job; a highly trained officer who goes against his better judgement and ends up dying because of it; and a soldier who is simply too scared to do what is necessary.
The situation, as it is portrayed in the film (because I really don't know otherwise), is impossible for the remaining troops left at Beaufort. The pullout seems all but certain, but it is still a rumor that the soldiers can't allow themselves to believe. Hezbollah is also well aware that the Israelis are soon to abandon the fort and increase the shelling and psychological pressure on the troops and the government. Meanwhile, the politics of admitting that you want to abandon whatever the original mission was at Beaufort is not so easy for those wielding the power. The soldiers who are caught in the middle are only increasingly aware of their pointlessness and, for some, their failure. (Sound familiar?)
It's no mistake that the film starts with an altruistic defusing of a bomb and ends with an narcissistic detonation. Beaufort is endlessly complex, open to overarching analogies and the realization of human contradictions. Completely riveting, it would be a shame if Beaufort doesn't see a theatrical release.