Beaufort (Hebrew: בופור) is a 2007 Israeli war film. The film was directed by Joseph Cedar and was co-written by Cedar and Ron Leshem, based on Leshem's novel of the same name. The film is about an IDF unit stationed at the isolated mountaintop Beaufort post in Southern Lebanon during the South Lebanon conflict, and their commander, Liraz Librati, who was the last commander of the Beaufort castle before the Israeli withdrawal in 2000.
The film takes place in the year 2000, the year of the IDF withdrawal from the Israeli Security Zone in southern Lebanon. It chronicles the daily routine of a group of soldiers positioned at the 12th century Crusader stronghold of Beaufort Castle, their feelings and their fears, and explores their moral dilemmas in the days preceding the withdrawal and end of the 18-year South Lebanon conflict.
The film's director, himself an IDF veteran who was stationed in Lebanon during the first Lebanon war, uses the stone walls of Beaufort castle as a symbol of the futility and endlessness of war. The film was shot during the spring of 2006 at Nimrod Fortress, a similar mountaintop fort in the Golan Heights. Cedar said he was influenced by the film Das Boot, and the World War I "bunker films", when creating the underground tunnels and mazes of the Beaufort. He also said that Paths of Glory was a heavy influence, specifically on the bomb-disarming mission scene. Useful historical information for understanding the movie can be found in the article on the original capture of Beaufort in 1982 by the Israeli army.
Filming was completed in June, just a month before the second war in Lebanon broke out.
Beaufort was generally well received by critics. As of 29 July 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 88% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 40 reviews. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave it an A, calling it "a movie of tremendous power—nerve-racking, astute, and neutral enough to apply to all soldiers, in all wars, everywhere". A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: "Even if it does not entirely rise above cliché, 'Beaufort' has an earnest, sober intelligence that makes it hard to shake. It suggests that, for those who fight, the futility of war is inseparable from its nobility." The film's concept and look were compared to those of Letters from Iwo Jima.
The film gained mostly very positive reviews in Israel; several reviewers called it one of the best Israeli films ever. Hannah Brown of The Jerusalem Post called it the first great Israeli war film. The less positive reviews claimed that the film lacks a direct confrontation with its issues or criticism.
Effi Eitam, an Israeli war hero who was an Israel Defense Forces high commander in Lebanon (he was replaced by Moshe Kaplinsky several months before the withdrawal), said that the film "successfully depicts, in great detail, the military experience". Eitam also criticized the creators for showing only the last days of the fighting and not telling the full story of the 18 years of Israeli fighting in Lebanon ("Whoever watches this movie is likely to think that this entire war was just a matter of inane duck shooting... That’s not how we operated").
Linda Barnard from the Toronto Star notes that "Liraz can't protect his men and is visibly diminished each time they face danger and death." As well, he "faces his last order [to destroy the fort] with resolve mixed with bitterness and anger over the useless sacrifice of those who died to defend what the army is about to wipe out". Andrea Gronvall from the Chicago Reader calls it a "blistering antiwar film"; she states that "the absurdity and terrors of their situation are compounded when the squad receives orders to evacuate and blow up its bunker—something the enemy has been trying to do all along."
Jonathan Richards notes that the film has a "slow and contemplative [approach], punctuated by shocking bursts of explosive violence". He states that "at a little over two hours, [the film] drags at times with its static, claustrophobic setting and thin plot," but nevertheless states that "it makes an urgent case for the futility of most wars, which serve immediate political goals that afterward don’t seem terribly important." He states that "at its core[,] Beaufort is about the heroism of withdrawal, the guts it takes to reject the militaristic mindset that believes any retreat is a weakness."
Beaufort is one of the most successful Israeli films of the 2000s. It made more than US$500,000 in the first 3 weeks of its release in the Israeli market, a substantial amount for a domestic Israeli film. Since its release, it was viewed by over 300,000 viewers in Israel.
Cedar won the Silver Bear in the Berlin International Film Festival for directing Beaufort, and the film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first such nomination for an Israeli film since Beyond the Walls (1984) and the seventh overall. In Israel it won 4 Ophir Awards—Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Artistic Design and Best Soundtrack. It was also nominated for Best Picture, although the award went to The Band's Visit, making Beaufort the first film directed by Cedar to not win this award. The Band's Visit's status as a foreign language film in the Academy Awards was rejected because it contains over 50% dialogue in English, which caused the runner-up Beaufort to become Israel's submission instead.
The casting has raised serious public criticism in Israel, especially from families of slain soldiers and war veterans, given the fact that some of the actors did not serve in the Israeli army (Army service is compulsory in Israel, although some people are exempt). Cedar commented that the actors had to spend a month at an actual outpost preparing for their roles, and "Israel may be the only place where actors are expected to have actual combat experience when playing soldiers in a movie."
It was rumored that it was the filmmakers of Beaufort who brought to the Academy's attention the ineligibility, on language grounds, of The Band's Visit. Beaufort's makers denied this rumor.