Based on the bestselling novel by Ron Lesham and adapted for the screen by the writer along with the director, Joseph Cedar’s Oscar-nominated Beaufort gives the viewer a deeply immersive and troubling experience of being among the last Israeli soldiers in the Lebanon just before their withdrawal in May 2000, the soldiers holed up in a godforsaken outpost on a mountain top, Beaufort Castle, an ancient twelfth-century Crusader fortress of more symbolic than strategic value. The occupation of the Lebanon is all but over, the IDF in retreat, but while the politicians work out the details, the soldiers sit in isolation, feeling like cannon-fodder for the Hezbollah who intend to see the withdrawal of troops taking place under the appearance of an ignominious defeat.
Heading up the IDF unit entrenched and under continual assault from Hezbollah bombardments, is Commander Liraz (Oshri Cohen). He’s a young officer, but one the troops feel they can depend on. He’s not exactly a cool head, but is usually the first to react when there is an emergency. The precariousness and uncertainty of their position however is even getting to Liraz and the strain is starting to show. Left isolated within the Lebanon, with even the main land approach to the fortress cut-off on account of mines and other suspect devices, a bomb disposal expert, Ziv (Ohad Knoller), is called in to examine and disarm the device, but even the purpose of reopening the road and maintaining a presence in Beaufort at a potential further cost to life seems pointless. The soldiers know they are due to leave soon, but Liraz isn’t ready to give up on something that was hard-won eighteen years ago – although even now no-one knows what the purpose of taking the fortress was or if the rumours are true that the order to abandon it got lost in transmission – and has been costly to maintain in terms of human lives ever since.
The film brilliantly and realistically captures the sense of futility of war, Beaufort showing an almost Samuel Beckett-like precision for the absurdity of the situation, the vulnerability of the soldiers in a precarious and almost hopeless position. The film achieves this through conventional and less conventional means. Holed-up together, bunkered-down seemingly forgotten by the military command, left to fend for themselves, the situation is not unlike that of soldiers in WWI trenches, and their position of vulnerable isolation in close-quarters has more than a passing similarity with the situation of the submarine crew on Das Boot. This provides plenty of opportunity for banter and camaraderie between the men in their bunks, each with stories to tell and ambitions for what to do when they finally get out. All this is handled well in Beaufort, focussing on the human element trapped within a monstrous situation outside of their control and sometimes beyond their comprehension to even process.
It’s this surreal aspect that is taken further and even more successfully by director Joseph Cedar. Wandering around the encampment, newcomer Ziv finds himself lost in a bewildering maze of identical-looking corridors, some positions “manned” by decoys. Constantly under bombardment from a faceless enemy, the constant mantra of “incoming, incoming” presaging further horrors, Beaufort also at times takes on the surreal aspect of a science-fiction movie, the dimly-lit monochrome tunnels of the outpost looking like something out of Solaris, Aliens or 2001: A Space Odyssey, a sensation emphasised by wonderful airy, eerie score by Ishar Adar.
Apart from one or two lazy war-movie conventions, the script striving for poignancy by allowing you get to know a character just before he takes a bullet or mortar strike, the film nonetheless effectively maintains an incredible level of tension creating a sense of deep unease throughout. Death can come to anyone at anytime while the soldiers wait it out, ignorant of the decisions being made by the Israeli command, unaware of the next move from the Hezbollah, a sensation that functions not only a generalised humanitarian commentary on the futility of war, but on the very specific political situation in the Middle-East.
Beaufort is released on Blu-ray in the UK by the Trinity Filmed Entertainment. The disc is BD25 and the film comes with a 1080/24p encode. Extra features are Standard Definition PAL. The disc is playable All Region
As with the SD release, the transfer is presented at 1.85:1 rather than the theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio that can be seen in the Making of and Deleted Scenes included in the extra features. The framing is not compromised however by a pan-and-scan, but rather opened up to allow additional headroom. The transfer understandably doesn’t make any great advances on the presentation of the film on regular standard definition DVD – which was very impressive in the first place – but there are certainly benefits to it being in High Definition. Because of the high contrasts used and colour tinting applied, it’s hard to find any extra detail in the image – whites glare brightly, while blacks have a deep inky quality – but there is certainly an improvement in sharpness and definition of the image. There would however appear to be a slight hint of edge enhancement which is now more evident, but haloing is faint and only occasionally visible. Some minor jitter or flicker of compression artefacting is still visible in backgrounds, but the HD transfer benefits considerably from a wonderfully smooth transfer, slow pans of the camera showing no jitter whatsoever. It’s not a major leap beyond what is offered on the SD release, but the improvements are certainly there.
Screenshot stills used in this review are taken from the Standard Definition DVD release.
Improvements can however certainly be detected in the audio track, the Blu-ray release having the benefit of both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS HD Audio Master mixes, whereas the DVD release only had a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Both tracks are strong with a clear dynamic range, but the surround track evidently is more subtle in its distribution and has a clear, rounded tone to the subwoofer channel for those out-of-the-blue explosions.
English subtitles are in a clear white font. They are well-sized, not too large, and stand out well from the image.
The extra features are carried over from the original DVD and are presented in PAL format. A Making of (23:42) contains a few interview snippets, but consists mainly of showing the construction of sets, use of make-up and setting of explosives, showing some scenes being shot and giving some indication of the difficulties involved. Nine Deleted Scenes (16:41), a couple of which are extended scenes, fill out some character detail with bonding conversations. These are good if not essential for the film. The colouration here is more natural before the tinting has been applied and they are presented in the 2.35:1 ratio. Also included is a Short Trailer (1:24) and a Long Trailer (2:09) for the film, both curiously at a ratio of 1.85:1, which would suggest that both ratios are acceptable.
Beaufort deals with what is certainly still a politically sensitive subject, but its focus is firmly on the ordinary soldiers and ordinary men caught up on the front-line of it all while the talking and manoeuvring goes on elsewhere, the politicians oblivious to the conditions they are forced to endure, the military command resigned to the human cost that has to be paid. Joseph Cedar captures the complexity of the Israeli war situation and the underlying human sentiments well, using conventional means and some fine touches that emphasise the surreal aspect of it all. Trinity’s HD release doesn’t make any great advances over the already fine standard definition DVD release, but given the choice, the Blu-ray is certainly the one to go for and the film itself is certainly worth viewing.