Whatever one thinks of Israeli policy and militarism, Israel’s filmmaking contingent more often than not addresses the country’s sticky matters with imagination and verve; which isn’t to say they necessarily confront their problems head-on, but they don’t ignore them. Samuel Moaz’s Foxtrot is built around a unique narrative that bookends an absurd tragedy with a play-like dramatic comment on that tragedy. Michael and Daphna Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler) live in a nice Tel Aviv apartment whose privileged air of complacency is shattered when they receive news that their son, carrying out his obligatory military service, has been killed. Immediately, the couple becomes disoriented and incapable of providing each other with the consolation they so desperately require. It’s obvious the relationship has been strained for some time, but instead of bringing the parents together, the news drives them further apart, partly owing to the nature of the tragedy. Michael, it turns out, was deeply traumatized by his own military service, and news of his son’s death only works to make the past come back with unexpected fury.
Moaz is not always considerate of the viewer’s position, and the middle part explores the incident that led to the (supposed) death of the son, Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray), who is stationed at a remote checkpoint called Foxtrot. The director depicts this place as a kind of hellish fantasy land where the soldiers play out their worst impulses because they have basically been encouraged to. Though it doesn’t become obvious to the viewer until near the end of the movie, when Michael has to negotiate with military brass to arrange for his son’s body to be disposed of, Jonathan’s situation mirrors the awfulness of Michael’s own martial memories, though as conveyed by Moaz they are much more ridiculous, almost funny, in fact. One running joke involves unaccompanied camels that keep crossing through the checkpoint. Palestinians, of course, are treated with suspicion and contempt, and violence is close to the surface, though malice has little to do with it. It’s more like a side effect of crushing boredom. The Israeli state, in other words, breeds killers by making them as miserable as possible.
There seems to be a moral to this odd story, but the immediate takeaway is that the system of “security” is anything but secure, though the tone and makeup of the movie is cinematic to a fault, thus making Foxtrot an exercise in formalism. The viewer wishes Moaz were more pointed in his criticism, but maybe that’s simply the reaction of someone who reads about the circumstances that give rise this sort of tragedy from a safe remove. When you’re in the thick of it, the only way to process it is through make believe.
In Hebrew. Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).
Foxtrot home page in Japanese.
photo (c) Pola Pandora-Spiro Films-ASAP Films-Arte France Cinema 2017