The men call one another by their first names: Shmulik (Yoav Donat), the gunner; Assi (Itay Tiran), the commander; Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), the loader; and Yigal (Michael Moshonov), the driver. They are inexperienced, on edge.
And then the orders come, the tank rolls into its position at an Israeli roadblock, and a car comes speeding at them - refusing the commands to stop. Shmulik hesitates pulling the trigger, and hesitates some more, putting the tank and the troops around it in jeopardy.
Winner of the grand prize at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Lebanon, like Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (and Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot, several decades back), offers a view of war that is anything but epic. Instead of sweeping battles and swooping fighter planes, in Lebanon we are brought into the impossibly claustrophobic world of a lone tank crew.
And when the tank rumbles on its mission - to sweep through a town already bombed by the Israeli Air Force - the soldiers jostle around in the heaving, grinding clang. The audience surveys the town and follows the patrolling foot soldiers just as Shmulik and Assi do: through the tank's periscopic sight, the remaining villagers, bloodied and shocked, lined up in its crosshair. The tank unit's point of view is ours, and vice versa. It's the filmic equivalent of a first-person narrator - only here, the parameters are defined by the field of vision of a rotating scope.
Lebanon is the second extraordinary film to emerge from Israel in recent years dealing with the country's 1982 invasion of Lebanon - and to examine Israeli-Arab relations on deeper, humanistic terms. Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir was an animated documentary; Maoz's account is more traditional in its cinematic approach, but no less forceful.
Both are the work of filmmakers who drew on their experiences as soldiers in the conflict: Folman was 19, Maoz 20. The trauma of battle, the smell of burning flesh, the dead and dismembered citizens, the wounded fighters - these are not things easily forgotten.
And in Lebanon, Maoz shares his harrowing memories. It is not a comfortable film to watch, but it is an essential one.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/