Set in 1989 and following four Israeli soldiers assigned to ‘bring order’ to the local population from the rooftop of a Palestinian family house, Yariv Horowitz‘s impressive feature-length debut Rock The Casbah paints an effective portrait of young, inexperienced soldiers (on both sides of the divide) and the futile struggle to maintain their humanity in the face of the many horrors of war.

“Just kids” is a common phrase and idea explored throughout the film. Laughing and singing on the bus journey to the combat base, it’s clear that eighteen-year-old Tomer and his squad are unprepared for their mission into a hostile land. The tragic loss of youth as a consequence of war is hammered home for both the immature Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian children who hurl stones and graphic sexual insults with equal venom.

Horowitz’s success in wringing out a fantastic performance from a young cast makes it all the more affecting, as does his ability to break the tension with (welcome) moments of genuine humour and hope.

Befitting a film that name checks The Clash’s seminal punk hit, the soundtrack in Rock The Casbah  also plays an important role. Brash rock and pop hits blare from the soldiers’ radio and mix uneasily with the backdrop of the call to prayer from the town mosque, while a starker, minimalist original score accompanies the soldiers in their quieter moments.

In the tradition of classic war films such as Apocalypse Now and The Thin Red Line, the real battle is within the characters and the existential journey into their personal ‘heart of darkness’. Horowitz makes a convincing argument without taking a side and without the need to overstate the obvious: there is no glory in war and violence, revenge and hatred are doomed to breed more of the same.

Watch the trailer here:

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