Film Review: Foxtrot

Foxtrot is an ambitious and emotional drama which may appear to be about war and its terrible consequences but proves instead to be more about the characters and their pain.

As Israeli writer/director Samuel Maoz’s second feature after the 2009 film Lebanon, aspects of Foxtrot upset members of Israel’s parliament last year. As such it’s become a political movie regardless of his intent, yet it’s more interested in people than wars that go on and on.

Separated into three chapters, or ‘episodes’ as Maoz has described them, of almost equal length, this opens with the Feldmanns, a well-off, middle-aged Tel Aviv couple, being informed that their soldier son Jonathan has been killed in the line of duty. Maoz studies their grief with quiet power. Dafna (Sarah Adler) has to be medicated so it falls to Michael (the familiar Lior Ashkenazi) to make a series of arrangements despite his blank, staring shock.

There’s talk of controversially giving up elaborate religious funeral ceremonies as the family are atheists and a traumatic sequence where Michael must tell his dementia-suffering mother (Karin Ugowski, a sort of grumpy Israeli Judi Dench) what’s happened. Then something startling occurs which has been given away elsewhere but won’t be here.

As part of the second ‘episode’, we subsequently cut to Jonathan (Yonathan Shiray) as he and three friends man a remote, grubby checkpoint, and in a weird moment of surreal humour, he dances the foxtrot with his machine gun. The four young men are shown to be just silly, bored kids really. They spend endless, tedious days chatting about centrefolds, stopping the occasional car for weary interrogations and eating ‘potted meat’ which looks more like dog food.

Shiray shines, even if the character has nothing much to do and spends so much time in bored silence. When this episode is over we move to the third, and watch how Dafna and Michael have been torn apart by grief. Somehow the foxtrot is introduced again here as a strangely potent metaphor for existential hopelessness.

Maoz actually served as a tank gunner in the First Lebanon War in 1982, which inspired his Lebanon, yet, once again, this is less about guns and armies and more about families, children and fate.

Rated MA. Foxtrot is in cinemas now.

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