Israeli Film ‘Foxtrot’ Is A Bruisingly Powerful Look At A War Without End
Enlarge this photo toggle caption Thanks to Sony Pictures Classics Thanks to Sony Pictures Classics
The characters in the films of Samuel Maoz are trapped in a single way or another. His 2009 drama, Lebanon, was a blistering critique of Israel’s 1982 invasion of its northern neighbor and an impressively sustained work out in confinement: It unfolded totally in the tank, forcing us to start to see the devastation of war from the limited vantage of four youthful troops.
Maoz’s remarkable new film, Foxtrot, tells a good different sort of soldier’s story, set in the present day and divided into 3 distinct chapters. It’s nowhere near as physically claustrophobic as Lebanon, but its characters appear merely as immobilized. The title, a reference to the three-step dance approach that provides you back again to your starting position, becomes a smart if heavy-handed metaphor for a country mired in its stasis.
The first chapter begins with a couple being informed that their son, Jonathan Feldman, has been killed in the line of duty while stationed at a far-flung military outpost. The boy’s mother, Dafna (enjoyed by Sarah Adler), passes out and is promptly offered tranquilizers by the attending soldiers.
For the next half-hour or so, the camera follows her husband, Michael (played by Lior Ashkenazi), as he techniques through a sort of trance. He looks on in blank incomprehension as family members offer supportive hugs and a soldier coldly dictates funeral protocol.
Maoz evokes Michael’s shellshocked fury by keeping us visually off-balance, sometimes through brazenly theatrical formal conceits. The atmosphere seems airless but charged with suspense. The video camera tracks along the corridors of the Feldmans’ flat, whose oppressively elegant monochrome decor increases the vague air flow of unreality.
Ashkenazi, perhaps the best-known Israeli actor functioning today, gives a tremendous performance mainly because Michael, barely sublimating and finally unleashing his rage against the government and the military. It is not just the tragic media they’ve taken to his door, however the chilly, bureaucratic proficiency with which they treat the newly bereaved.
The second chapter provides us to a security checkpoint in the middle of the desert where, at this point in the story, Jonathan (played by Yonatan Shiray) is alive and well. He and his three soldier buddies dedicate most of their days goofing off in a squalid transport container that’s slowly sinking in to the dirt. On those rare occasions when cars way their checkpoint, even so, the young men spring into action.
Maoz courts our sympathies for the calm, nameless Arab civilians trying to feed the checkpoint, who are actually forced to sit and await extended periods of time, or even to stand outdoors in the pouring rain. The tension cultivated in the primary take action boils over in the next, in the end erupting in tragedy.
The 3rd chapter returns us to the Feldmans’ apartment sometime in the future to obtain the family utterly ravaged by grief. Michael is certainly no longer coping with Dafna, but he’s dropped in on the event of what would have been Jonathan’s 20th birthday.
Adler, her character no more sedated but fully alert and angry, matches Ashkenazi’s performance moment for furious moment. Dafna blames Michael for Jonathan’s death, railing against him for his selfishness and weakness, while giving full voice to the unceasing agony of any parent who has ever lost a child.
As demonstrated by past videos like Waltz With Bashir and Beaufort, any kind of film that touches about the initiatives of the Israel Defense Forces can expect to become a lightning rod for controversy. The country’s minister of culture and sport, Miri Regev, has already attacked Foxtrot because of its “self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.”
Maoz, for his portion, has said in interviews that his critique comes from a location of love. “If I criticize the area I live, I do it because I worry,” he told THE DAYS of Israel.
The specificity of the film’s argument is unmistakable. The Feldmans, we find out, lost family members in Auschwitz, and Maoz suggests that the horrific legacy of the Holocaust is only the gravest of the numerous scars which may have led his character types with their anguished present mindset. The tough everyday truth of the occupation features played its part aswell.
But on a deeper level, Foxtrot resonates as the attributes we see in these character types – their bitterness, their pride, their instinctive distrust of the various other – are actually hardly the domain of 1 family or one region alone.
In its wrenching final moments, this bruisingly powerful movie could possibly be taking place in any state where people rage against each other, where historical trauma looms large in the collective memory and where young people are dispatched off to a war without end.