The camera focuses with concentrated eyes. “The smell of mud...I remember heavy fog.. Diesel fuel... the smell of burnt ash… I am frying cutlets... the smell of feet... sweat... the smell of someone who has not showered in 21 days... the smell of shampoo in a French shower... the scent of your girlfriend from the shirt that you stuffed into your bag after you hugged her."
The roll of film runs across the screen and in your head. The camera’s eye locks on different eyes. A gaze seeks support. “The burnt scent of a missile that hit the post and left it burning... the smell of a man who was here... the scent that does not leave."
One after the other, the fighters from the Beaufort post sit in front of the camera of the director Nurit Kedar. They talk about the fear without calling it by its name and pick at the wound that does not heal. The scent, like the memory, is not welcome. Kedar’s 'Wasted' will premiere at the Doc-Aviv Festival in March.
'Wasted,' like Joseph Cedar’s 'Beaufort' which is being displayed at the Berlin Festival, comes in the footsteps of Ron Leshem’s series of articles, which became the successful book 'If There is a Heaven.' Both of them dismantle the ethos of the soldier and the battles to the price that is paid, both of them discuss the battle and its purpose.
“When they discussed the smells I shrank," explains Kedar in an interview with Ynet.
“Scent transports you to a time and place, and I, who was in Lebanon a number of times and experienced the bombs, tried to feel what they experienced at the post - and I was not able to. Who ever did not sit with them in the ambush or at the observation post, cannot understand, and that is the tragedy - this tremendous disconnect that you feel as a parent to a child serving in these places. They will not talk to you about each of the experiences that they had. You will not get into these places. They are alone with their memories. When they opened the door for me, I understood how much I did not know."
"We teach them to keep quite and move on." (From the 'Wasted' - photo: Itai Neeman)
During the filming of the movie, which was produced with a grant from Keshet, there were quite a few breaking points.
“It was emotionally difficult. I looked at them and kept thinking that they were so young. I kept associating them with my children and that I had no idea what they went through. I am not the only one," she says. “Every interview ended in tears. I felt the need to envelop them with love. The connection we made is very deep and when the last Lebanon War began I quickly called all of them. Some of them were already in Lebanon”.
Six Years of Silence
Kedar’s documentary film was shot on Cedar’s set a few hours before it was dismantled. The set, which was situated in Nimrod’s Fortress, was built according to the testimony of soldiers and the photos that they brought back from the Beaufort Castle. Surprisingly, Kedars’ first meeting with the soldiers took place on the set.
“Out of 70 soldiers that were at Beaufort, only 25 came to the set. The others did not want to speak. The minute they entered the ‘submarine’, they were fully charged. I spent hours with each of them. Many of the things that emerged there, were said for the first time. Six years have passed since the withdrawal. Six years that they were silent. It took time to digest."
This is not the first time that Kedar takes soldiers back to the key events that scarred their lives. She did it in her film 'One Shot,' a chilling collection of testimonies by Israeli snipers during the Second Intifada, which opened their private Pandora’s box. Lebanon is also an obsession that Kedar treads through again and again. The first time was in her film 'Lebanon Dream,' a type of documentary 'Mother Courage' that deals with war and its gains.
“The story of Lebanon is rooted in the essence of my life," she says.
“It began in the film 'Lebanon Dream,' but it accompanied me for years. I filmed a lot in South Lebanon. I stayed in the posts, I was there with the soldiers and then I would go home. Going home was the hardest. It was difficult to leave them there. My son spent a year in Lebanon, a year in which I did not sleep, and therefore I suppose that this place burns in me."
You do not have to delve too deep to see the connection between 'One Shot' and this film. The famous documentary producer Alan Berliner wrote: “This is a film that touches your heart, it haunts you, it feels like the perfect follow up to “One Shot”. Looking back, Kedar agrees with that observation.
“The connecting line is the soul. In the two films the camera is a therapeutic tool and the interviewer almost does not exist for the interviewees. In the film on the snipers and also here I did not want to interrogate the soldiers, because I thought that it was emotionally very sensitive and that an interrogation would destroy it," she says.
“It was hard to bring them back to there. In both cases it meant talking about things that are usually kept silent. In a macho society, talking about pain and fear is not manly. We teach them to be silent and to move on."
Between the testimonies Kedar plants dance sequences created by Ohad Naharin and performed by the Bat Sheva dance troupe. Muscled bodies of men in army pants and undershirts intertwine, fight with each other and hurl to the floor. In the background plays the music of Ohad Fishoff, the accompaniment of Naharin’s creation.
“The dance scenes are beautiful and faultlessly choreographed. They contribute a poetic balance, an unspoken counterpoint to the spoken words," writes Alan Berlinger.
Scene from 'Wasted' (photo: Itai Neeman)
Kedar has a hard time explaining why she combined dance with the sensitive interviews.
“In my previous films I touched on nonverbal passages," she says. “Dance seems more appropriate than archival footage. I see in dance the life after Beaufort. It is the pain that is impossible to describe in words. Everything exists in movement, it completes the words and grabs you."
Kedar relates that when she asked Naharin if he would be interested in working with her, he asked to hear the testimonies of the soldiers. “He saw a few of the testimonies and then called me. He said that the soldiers made him cry, that it moved him and that he would be happy to collaborate," retells Kedar.
Naharin arranged the dance sequences with the photographer Amichai Bukovsky. Naharin was also the one who suggested working with Fishoff on the production.
A Movie on all the Wars
Kedar is not comfortable with the question of whether the name of the film does not direct the viewer to adopt a critical stance. At first she says: “I present things the way they are. It is the job of the viewer to interpret it the way that he understands it."
Afterwards she adds, “It is a wasted slice of life that in a civilized world would appear completely different. They are children. These are not the memories that should remain with them from their adolescence. It should not be that a 19 year old should have to deal with death, fate, the fear of death, and feelings of loneliness so deep that it remains with them for years.
"The feeling I got was that they really did not know what we were doing there, that they were sitting in the post like cannon fodder, like ducks in a shooting gallery waiting for the end. They lived underground, in a closed space that was lit by fluorescent lights, and they would go up to positions that were bombed daily by hundreds of mortar bombs. What kind of life is that? What did we do to them, G-d almighty?"
During the editing of the film, Kedar turned to Berliner, to see if the picking of the wound, which seemed local, would resonate and be understood by a viewer who does not know the story of the Beaufort or the Israeli ethos. “It was important for me to know that it was not too local, that it was logical," she says.
Berliner praised the movie and wrote, “This is a movie on the brotherhood of soldiers, on the absurdities of war that made them into friends for life, trapped and locked in the same haunted narrative and they are characters in each other’s nightmares.
"It is a movie on the price of war paid by young men who should be at the peak of their lives, flooded with testosterone, energy and excitement. Instead they are war weary and exhausted by the world.
"Each of them carries the weight of the sights, smells, voices, visions and tastes or the weight of the things they have done… They are trapped in a no win situation, a perverted boomerang of national pride. The movie uses the war in Lebanon as a specific example, but in many ways there is no need. This is a movie about all wars, the waste of life in all human tragedies where the souls of soldiers, nations and governments were killed, and the view of history was befouled. I am convinced that the movie will touch audiences all over the world”.