BFI London Film Festival: Foxtrot

Directed by Samuel Maoz
Starring Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler and Yonatan Shiray
Screening at LFF October 11th, 12th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

‘Foxtrot’ is not only a military code word, but a dance whose steps always lead back to the first position; so we are reminded by Michael Feldman (Ashkenazi) in the film of the same name. Taking the dance metaphor to heart, Foxtrot is a movie about an inevitable dance with destiny.

As soldiers knock on the Feldmans’ door to notify them of the death of their son Jonathan, the film begins its journey, and criticism of Israeli life. Starting off as a film about grief, the camera closely follows the remarkable Lior Ashkenazi as he quietly displays his emotions. Dizzying camera work along with his stoic performance truly capture the emotion, anger and frustration he is feeling. The bureaucracy of the soldiers is remarkably clinical, pigeonholing Michael’s role as grieving father, and his wife Dafna’s (Adler) as grieving mother. The soldiers immediately sedate Dafna upon delivering the sad news, leaving Michael to pick up the pieces. When discussing Jonathan’s military funeral, it is recommended that Michael not carry his son’s coffin, but be there to comfort his wife – it’s the woman’s role to show emotion, the men must be ‘men’.

We are then transported to Jonathan’s troop as they guard a desolate checkpoint, with a more ‘boys will be boys’ feel to this segment. The innocence and inexperience of their youth is grandly on display, as they are forced to deal with menial tasks, leading us to wonder what their role in the larger political agenda could possibly be. They are living in degenerating conditions, staving off boredom and rarely putting their trained military skills to use. Futility is a theme which prevails across the entire landscape of Foxtrot, in a harrowing but also beautiful way.

This is art house cinema at its finest, and the film will likely struggle to find a mainstream audience, in spite of its magnificent accomplishment. The three acts of Foxtrot are each distinct in style, tone, story and allegory, all quietly and masterfully depicted. Not much dialogue is spoken, but camerawork, performances and behaviours piece together to get director Samuel Maoz’s vision across. Each segment is also a gripping and unique story in its own right; each could stand strong as their own film, but together they create something else entirely.

A portrait of a psychologically frayed Israel; criticizing its politics and social infrastructure while commenting on the role of fate, Foxtrot is an intense film. Heavily artistic in its execution, it can be enjoyed as a political allegory, or a beautiful piece of surreal cinema. Either way, it will leave an impact.


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