Tsahal | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


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Part patriotic tribute, part 60 Minutes-style investigative journalism, Claude Lanzmann's five-hour documentary Tsahal probes Israel's embattled state of mind through a history of its army. Between 1991 and 1992, Lanzmann, who'd made the harrowing Holocaust epic Shoah (1985), was given unprecedented access to members of the Israeli Defense Forces, or Tsahal (an acronym formed from the agency's name in Hebrew). Eschewing battle footage and voice-over narration, Lanzmann instead uses interviews with officers and soldiers--most of whom fought in the country's six major conflicts with its Arab neighbors--to make up the core of this hard-nosed examination of a complex, disconcerting topic. Interspersed with the talking heads are panoramic views of the countryside--a constant reminder of the land that makes Tsahal a necessity. Lanzmann, as usual, keeps an ironic distance from his subjects--who also include, in far smaller numbers, Palestinians and Israeli critics of Tsahal--questioning them with smiling skepticism and at times arguing with them. Yet overall he seems not so much interested in a balanced assessment of Tsahal's role in Israeli life as in laying bare the contradictions inherent in the attitudes of the Israelis toward their own militarism and that of their enemies. The film concludes Lanzmann's monumental trilogy about contemporary Jewish history, which began with Why Israel (1973) and continued memorably with Shoah. A Chicago premiere presented by the Jewish Film Project of the Film Center. Skokie, Sunday, August 13, 11:00 am, 322-1769.

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