VENICE, Sept 8 (Reuters) - A new film by Israeli director Samuel Maoz draws on his memories as a young soldier in the 1982 Lebanon war, powerfully rendering fear and claustrophobia by shooting most of the action from inside a tank.
So harrowing was his experience as a 20-year-old conscript in the conflict that it took Maoz 25 years to muster the strength to write "Lebanon", which has its world premiere at the Venice film festival on Tuesday.
The movie follows four inexperienced soldiers inside a tank dispatched to "mop up" enemies in a Lebanese town that has already been bombarded by the Israeli Air Force.
What seems a routine mission quickly spirals out of control and turns into a death trap as the tank breaks down and loses its way in hostile territory.
Packed with tension and graphic scenes that can be difficult to watch, the film thrusts the audience onto the battlefield by shooting the action almost entirely from inside the tank and through the cross hairs of the gunner's lens.
"This is not a movie that makes you think 'I've just been to a movie'. This is a movie that makes you feel like you've been to war," said Yoav Donat, who in the film relives the director's role in the war manning the tank's cannon.
"Lebanon" comes one year after Ari Folman's animated documentary "Waltz With Bashir", which also explored the horrors of the 1982 conflict from the point of view of Israeli soldiers.
Maoz, who calls that war "our Vietnam", said that unlike in previous conflicts fought by Israel, in Lebanon the "game rules" -- clearly identified armies and targets -- did not apply.
"The war took place inside neighbourhoods, the enemy was wearing jeans so you could not see the difference between soldier and civilian, the general direction was north but that north quickly turned 360 degrees," he said in an interview.
"From the end of the war, from Beirut I remember craziness in everybody, I remember madness in the air."
He said he had wanted to present the crude reality of war to try to come to terms, at least in part, with his own trauma -- and the haunting memory of the first man he killed.
The film's backers had to fight hard to persuade him to cut out some of the most harrowing scenes.
"I need to forgive myself as well... It was a no way out situation and I didn't have a choice. But at the end of the day I was there and that for me is enough to feel responsible."
Maoz said the film was not a condemnation of Israel's policies, but a personal account of what he went through -- and of the ethical dilemmas soldiers face across the world.
"The mistake I made is to call the film 'Lebanon' because the Lebanon war is no different in its essence from any other war and for me any attempt to be political would have flattened the film," he said.
"If we talk not politically but personally about the souls of the soldiers, this is the best way to stop war."
Rather than explaining to his actors what it was like to be in a stifling hot tank being fired at from all directions, Maoz locked them in a dark container for hours at temperatures of 40 degrees. Aides then struck the container walls with iron bars.
"He wanted us to know how it feels to be in the heat, when you sweat and you're tired and have no drinks and your nerves are going to pop," said Donat, who like most of the other actors in the film has served in the military.
"It scares you a lot."
Editing by Paul Casciato
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