Foxtrot

Foxtrot
Michael and Daphna receive terrible news about their soldier son, who serves in a desolate checkpoint in the middle of nowhere.
Title Foxtrot
Release Date 2017-09-02
Runtime
Genres Drama
Production Companies Spiro Films, A.S.A.P, Pandora Film, ARTE, ARTE France Cinéma, Bord Cadre Films, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Deutscher Filmförderfonds (DFFF), Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, ZDF, FFA
Production Countries France, Germany, Israel, Switzerland

Reviews

Stephen Campbell
**_A fascinating political allegory_** _Our emotional memory from our past trauma, the biggest of which was the Holocaust followed by our survival wars, this memory is stronger than any current reality and logic. I am not justifying our behaviour. I am diagnosing it._ - Samuel Maoz; "_Foxtrot_ is an allegory for Israeli society, trapped by its traumatic past" (Kate Taylor); _The Globe and Mail_ (March 14, 2018) Part satirical allegory, part surrealist indictment, _Foxtrot_ finds writer/director Samuel Maoz working with similar themes as he did in _Lebanon_ (2009); the ridiculous nature of war, the desensitisation of youth during wartime, the futility and meaninglessness of giving one's life in the service of one's country. However, whereas _Lebanon_ was set during the 1982 Lebanon War, and shot entirely from inside a Centurion tank, _Foxtrot_ is set in the present day, and expands Moaz's thematic concerns to take in the grief and anguish of those who have lost children to military service. Much like _Lebanon_, _Foxtrot_ is an intensely political film, and much like _Lebanon_, _Foxtrot_ has met with controversy and condemnation in Maoz's native Israel. Whereas _Lebanon_ was accused of attempting to dissuade young men from joining the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), _Foxtrot_ has been attacked for slandering the moral character of the IDF. A meditative and contemplative piece, heavy on metaphors, for the most part, the film hinges on non-action and passivity - the characters don't so much drive events, as events happen to them. Indeed, this is another of the film's themes - our inability to control fate (or, depending on your outlook, random chance). As with _Lebanon_, Maoz displays extraordinary technical proficiency and control of the medium, with the film as aesthetically impressive as it is politically divisive. A savage condemnation of both a national psyche and a military mindset that trades on the most binary of them-versus-us dichotomies and consciously strives to blur the line between personal honour and political ideology, _Foxtrot_ is not always an easy watch, and it's rarely what you would call "entertaining", but it's undeniably a brilliantly made and deeply passionate film. Divided into three distinct sections, the film begins with Michael (a superb Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna Feldman (an equally superb Sarah Adler) receiving word that their son Jonathan, a conscript in the IDF, has been killed "_in the line of duty_". Dafna collapses, and has to be given a tranquiliser, whilst Michael goes into a kind of semi-catatonic state, barely registering what the casualty notification officers are telling him (apparently, he needs to drink a glass of water every hour; something they tell him about 15 times, even setting a reminder in his phone). As he slowly regains his faculties, however, he begins to ask questions - how was Jonathan killed, where was he stationed, is there a body - none of which are met with a straight answer. As Michael becomes more and more frustrated (a scene in which he takes his anger out on the family dog is very tough to watch, even though the violence is all suggested via sound effects rather than depicted on screen), the soldiers leave (reminding him to stay hydrated). Several hours later, another group of soldiers arrive to tell the Feldmans that their son is, in fact, still alive; a Jonathan Feldman was killed, but it was a different Jonathan Feldman. This news sends Michael off the deep-end, raging at anyone and everyone, and demanding that the IDF allow Jonathan to return home. The film then jumps several days back to a forlorn desert checkpoint on Israel's northern border (codename Foxtrot) manned by a group of unnamed wet-behind-the-ears soldiers, and Jonathan Feldman himself (Yonaton Shiray). The most action the group see is raising the barrier to let a camel amble through (in what appears to be a daily occurrence), and checking the IDs of the few Palestinians who are travelling the route. Indeed, the soldiers are more interested in the fact that the shipping container in which they sleep is slowly sinking into the sand than in anything military-related. However, when a mistake whilst checking the IDs of a group of Palestinians leads to tragedy, Jonathan comes to learn just how ruthlessly political the IDF can be. Without spoiling anything, the third section, which is kind of an extended coda, then returns to Michael and Dafna's apartment, six months after the opening scenes. _Foxtrot_ was inspired by an incident in Maoz's own life; 20 years ago, when his daughter was running late for school, Maoz refused to give her money for a taxi, forcing her to take a bus. Shortly thereafter, he saw on the news that the bus on which his daughter was travelling had been bombed, with no survivors. It was only several hours later that he learned she had missed the bus and was perfectly fine, but for those few hours, he thought she was dead. In Israel, the film was denounced by Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, without her actually seeing it. Accusing it of being > _the result of self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative,_ Regev was furious that it had been made with Israel Film Fund money, vowing to change the rules of the Fund to exclude "anti-Israeli films". When it went on to win 10 Ophir Awards (Israel's equivalent of the Academy Awards), including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor, Regev was not invited to the ceremony. In response to her criticisms, Maoz stated, > _if I criticise the place I live, I do it because I worry. I do it because I want to protect it. I do it from love._ Regev later argued that it was > _outrageous that Israeli artists contribute to the incitement of the young generation against the most moral army in the world by spreading lies in the form of art._ So what got Regev so hot under the collar? In _Foxtrot_, Maoz constructs an allegory through which he deconstructs Israeli national myths and self-aggrandising narratives. Interrogating what he sees as a culture of denial born from a reluctance to deal with the morality and sustainability of being an occupying force, the film gets a lot of mileage out of the metaphor of the foxtrot - a dance where no matter where you go, if you follow the steps correctly, you end up back at the starting position. Applied to Israel, or indeed, any nation, Maoz is suggesting that without taking great care, countries will repeat the errors of the past, ending up exactly where they once were. The film depicts three generations of Feldmans (Michael's mother (Karin Ugowski), a Holocaust survivor now suffering from dementia, Michael himself, and Jonathan) dancing the foxtrot (literally in Michael and his mother's cases), either unwilling or unable to face up to the country's violent and traumatic past. Tied to this is the metaphor of the sinking container, with one of the soldiers stating, "_we'll end up sinking completely_" - the world is off-kilter, and getting worse every day. Speaking to _The Globe and Mail_, Maoz explains, > Foxtrot _deals with the open wound or bleeding soul of Israeli society. We dance the foxtrot; each generation tries to dance it differently but we all end up at the same starting point,_ whilst he tells the _LA Times_, > _I won't be naive and say there is no social or political statement in my film. But it's more broad than specific. I don't have an interest in a realistic film about a roadblock. The roadblock is a microcosm of a society - any society - that has its perception distorted by a past trauma._ In a more concrete sense, in two scenes at Foxtrot, the film examines the casual sadism, unspoken racism, and braggadocious machoism that can arise from serving in the armed forces of a country perpetually at war. In the first (arguably the best scene in the film), the soldiers make a Palestinian couple stand in the pouring rain whilst their antiquated computer checks the couple's IDs. Obviously dressed for a formal night (he is in a tuxedo, she in an elegant dress), by the time the soldiers clear them to pass, their clothes are destroyed, as is her hair, and her makeup is ruined, with the soldiers even making her empty the contents of her purse onto the ground. The scene is brilliantly staged, agonisingly realistic, and takes place in real-time, with Maoz concentrating on the couple looking at one another across the roof of the car, conveying agonised helplessness, compromised innocence, understandable belligerency, and, most saliently, abject humiliation. It's a masterclass in dialogue-free storytelling, and deeply political storytelling at that. In the second scene, the soldiers act with violent impunity against a car of young Palestinians, although the act of violence itself arises from a mistake (to say much else would be a spoiler). Maoz also offers pointed criticism in a scene in the first section, when an indifferent and misogynistic officer from the military rabbinate (Itamar Rothschild) arrives to go over the funeral arrangements, condescendingly telling Michael, "_a little smile can help you cope_". Aesthetically, as with _Lebanon_, _Foxtrot_ is fascinatingly staged. For starters, Maoz shoots each of the three sections differently, but in ways tightly tied to their thematic focus; the first is highly restrictive, trapping us in the confined ideological headspace of the Feldmans, with the intense emotionality constantly threatening to boil over; the vast wide-open vistas of the second part contrast sharply with the confinement of the first, with the entire section threaded through with surrealism and even a hint of magic realism; the third section is darker than the others (in a literal sense), with a stark visual design that emphasises only those elements that are important to the scene. A recurring composition in the first section is an overhead shot looking directly down on Michael, creating a (false) sense of omniscience. This is contrasted with the way Maoz often shoots Michael in tight close-ups, remaining on his face even when other characters are speaking. The Feldman apartment itself is extremely angular, and although it's very spacious, cinematographer Giora Bejach shoots it in such a way as to appear oppressively box-like (the fact that there is tempered glass on the doors, obscuring what's on the other side, is an important element in this). Boxes are emphasised throughout the film; the floor pattern of the Feldman living room, the container in which the soldiers at Foxtrot sleep, the dance moves of the foxtrot itself. The impression given is that the characters are fundamentally trapped - in a practical sense by the boxes with which they've surrounded themselves, and in a more metaphorical sense by the nation's psyche. Jonathan Ritzel's sound design is also notable, full of deafening sounds that seem to come out of nowhere (the buzzer for the Feldman's apartment, doors slamming etc). Especially impressive is how intimately Maoz weaves together form and content, allowing the latter to generate the former in a way most filmmakers could never dream of emulating. To give an example, in the production notes, Maoz states, > _the film has a shot where you see a screen of a laptop with a notice of mourning and next to it a bowl with oranges. This frame is the story of my country in four words – oranges and dead soldiers._ _Foxtrot_ certainly won't be for everyone. Some will take issue with the pacing (which, it has to be said, is extremely languid), some with the allegorical nature of the story, some with the film's politics. For everyone else, however, this is a brilliantly realised family tragedy, dealing with the randomness of pain and loss in a country refusing to recognise its past. Maoz tells a personal story, but he also exposes the nature of a country whose moral crisis is no less severe than the crisis in which the Feldmans find themselves. Critiquing the practice of sending soldiers to die for absolutely nothing, as well as the xenophobic mindset that has crept into the zeitgeist, Maoz has been accused of making an "_anti-Israel narrative_." On the contrary, he is pleading with his country to change its ways, or it will repeat the errors of history; this is the act of a man who loves his country deeply, but who can see its flaws. In one of the most devastatingly heartbreaking lines I've heard in a long time, Dafna muses, "_I remember thinking that I was going to be happy_." Maoz is suggesting so too did the Israeli people.

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