Cinematic Releases: Foxtrot (2017) - Reviewed

For nearly half a century Israel and Palestine have been at war. The latest clashes taking place between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters in the Gaza strip over the displacement of Palestinians during the creation of Israel in 1948. More than 60 protesters have been killed since March 30th, and both sides have launched missile attacks against each other since the beginning of the year. It seems a day cannot pass without some mention of it appearing in the news cycle and discussions surrounding the conflict always seem to be laced with controversy. Director Samuel Maoz’s latest film Foxtrot is no exception to this. Set in the context of one Israeli family’s grief over the death of their son in the line of duty, Maoz fearlessly examines the Israeli military in the context of its ongoing conflict with Palestine.

Foxtrot is clever in it’s criticism, using repetition to drive the point home. As the film begins with Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Daphna (Sarah Adler) being notified of the death of their son, there is noticeable use of repeating patterns throughout the set design of the Feldmann home. These patterns also follow Michael and Daphna throughout the film, which link them to the scenes with their son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray), as his daily military tasks are repeated over and over again. The characters also share a kind of numbness. Michael and Daphna are numbed by their grief and Jonathan and his fellow soldiers are numbed by the monotony of their isolated outpost. Together, the repetition and numbness have Foxtrot asking, “What’s the purpose?”

Foxtrot, as Michael Feldman points out, is a dance “That no matter where you go, you always end up at the same starting point.” This line is a statement by Maoz about the never-ending cycle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film goes on to show a military that is indifferent to its soldiers and their families, cruel to Palestinians, and a public that seems either willingly or unwillingly doped up on apathy for it all. Cinematographer Giora Bejach’s use of disorientating angles intensely relates the emotion behind this dreary circus, while simultaneously foreshadowing Jonathan’s fate.

Director Samuel Maoz’s criticism is so unflinching that Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev met Foxtrot’s release with damnation. Expressing this in a public statement she said, it is “outrageous to see Israeli artists contributing to the incitement of the younger generation against the most moral army in the world, while lying under the guise of art” After winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2017, Moaz said “If I criticize the place I live, I do it because I worry. I do it because I want to protect it. I do it from love.”

Foxtrot is fiercely brilliant filmmaking. Backed by the powerfully emotional performances of Lior Ashkenzi and Sarah Adler, it beautifully sews together real life grief of a family and the socio-political environment in which that grief is born. It is the kind of filmmaking that demonstrates that art is the needed mirror for the face of society, because, as Lewis Carroll once said, “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” 

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-Dawn Stronski