Joseph Cedar

Israeli director explores Religious Zionist community to great acclaim.

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Liraz is a more complex keeper of the flame than previous Cedar characters who represented "true believers." Unlike the rabbi in Time of Favor, or the settler leader in Campfire, there is no ugliness at his core--just a willingness to trust in the wisdom of his superiors--military and political--that is ultimately self-defeating. Because of its fortress etting, Beaufort is far more spatially compressed than either Time of Favor or Campfire, which works simultaneously to its benefit and its detriment. While even more specific in its focus than either of its predecessors, Beaufort also lacks some of their nuance found in the change of environments.

In its relentless concentration on narrow passageways and enclosed spaces, Beaufort is ultimately more like a spaceship film than anything else--think 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Alien. The Lebanese countryside, beautiful and barren, is a foreign planet, and the Israeli soldiers stationed there are hostile elements in a mysterious and ultimately dangerous landscape.

We never see any Lebanese in Beaufort, whether Hezbollah fighters or local residents. The terror is intangible, and arrives without warning. The soldiers' perch at Beaufort--the Crusader castle that has hosted invaders and defenders for hundreds of years--is ultimately only a temporary one, always abandoned for the next wave of invaders.

We never truly understand Liraz's motivations, or his beliefs. Why is he the last one to realize that the Israeli army and government may have no real purpose in their extended Lebanese excursion? In many ways, Liraz would make more sense if he, like Cedar's previous protagonists, were also a religious Zionist. Perhaps Cedar was seeking to spread his wings, desiring to show his mastery of more than one Israeli milieu. But without a proper explanation for Liraz's occasionally heroic, occasionally foolish obstinacy, the action in Beaufort seems without motivation

Time of Favor, Campfire, and Beaufort have gone a long way toward expanding the horizons of Israeli cinema. Cedar's work is the cinematic representative of religious Israel-- a once-invisible, ever-growing minority--and his first two films were an attempt to wrestle with the complexity and contradiction of the religious-Zionist movement, in all its permutations. In seeking to expand beyond religiosity, Cedar forgets his own strengths. Cedar might be better served by returning to his religious roots.

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Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.