American war films often include a scene in which a fresh-faced recruit reports for duty and learns the unwritten rules of his new post, whether it's in Western Europe, Vietnam, or elsewhere. The unacknowledged irony of those movies is that the soldiers giving the lectures usually haven't been there much longer than the rookies. Prior to the current conflict, the U.S. approach to military campaigns involved a lot of moving around, to the extent that it would be hard for any movie soldier to speak authoritatively about "the way we do things" in the place he's stationed. Chances are, no one's been there long enough to establish any traditions.
The Israeli Defense Forces, on the other hand, did occupy Lebanon's Beaufort Castle from 1982 to 2000, and one of the fascinations of Joseph Cedar's Israeli war film Beaufort is the way characters pass on what's been learned over 18 years of skirmishes and drudgery. "That's how you sleep at Beaufort," one explains to a newbie, while another offers to cook up "a Beaufort toast," a grubby little late-night snack. Yet in Cedar's film—based on a Ron Leshem novel—there's a trace of wistfulness to the way stories and methods are passed on. When the movie begins, the army is weeks away from withdrawing, and while everybody knows evacuation is inevitable, nobody wants to talk about it. Meanwhile, the days pass slowly, with the tedium interrupted by the occasional landmine or Hezbollah mortar attack.
Beaufort isn't really an action movie, though it contains some tense combat scenes and tough-talking speeches, and it isn't really an art film, though Cedar keeps the pace slow and lingers on the differences between the cramped spaces inside the castle and the vast landscapes outside. Mostly, Beaufort is a deliberate, reserved dramatization of how an army stands down. The movie could use some "why" to go with that "how," but there's still a lot of poignancy to the scenes where the IDF prepares to leave by trashing the place that had been their home for two decades—and a Middle Eastern battlement since the 12th century. There's also a little bit in Beaufort about how a long-term occupation loses track of its original purpose. "It's a well-known phenomenon," one soldier says to another, while staring out a gorgeous mountain vista. "When you're here long enough, the view changes."