Daphna Feldmann (Sarah Adler, "Notre Musique," "Jellyfish") opens her Tel Aviv apartment door and collapses when she sees who is standing there. She is sedated as her husband Michael's (Lior Ashkenazi, "Norman," "7 Days in Entebbe") phone is programmed to remind him to hydrate hourly. The Israeli military assures him that they will take care of his son's funeral arrangements, but when Michael demands to see Jonathan's (Yonathan Shiray, "A Tale of Love and Darkness") body, their story changes, quite dramatically, in "Foxtrot."
Eight years after his first feature, "Lebanon," won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion, writer/director Samuel Maoz's second won the Silver Lion as well as being shortlisted for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. This is a strange film, yet a richly rewarding one for those willing to mull its mysteries. Moaz gives us information with no grounding, then contextualizes it after the fact, the device working to add layers of meaning as well as deliver one gut punch of an ending.
The film is separated into three acts, the first and third focusing on Michael and Daphna in Tel Aviv, the satiric midsection a look at Jonathan and his fellow soldiers (Dekel Adin, Shaul Amir and Itay Exlroad) the remote roadblock that gives the film its name. In the first, when Daphna collapses, she reveals a spiky line drawing in the foyer, one which points both to Michael's career as an architect and his own mental turmoil. Ignoring his brother Avigdor's (Yehuda Almagor, "Norman") advise not to upset their mother (Karin Ugowski), Michael heads to her anyway, first happening upon a senior dance class (the foxtrot is a heavy handed symbol of ending up right back where you began), then being called by his brother's name by the German speaking woman suffering from dementia. The Holocaust hangs heavily over this family, as does guilt. When Michael observes his sleeping wife scratching at her injection puncture, he tenderly replaces the band-aid. Later, in his son's room, he opens a desk drawer revealing a girlie magazine, the woman's nipples x'ed out with band-aids. The significance of this becomes apparent in the film's second act, when Jonathan tells the story of how his father originally acquired this, a moral tale reverberating through three generations.
As in the first act, production design and art direction hold meaning in the second. Foxtrot is comprised of an elevated tower open to the elements (we see ancient comm equipment dripping in the rain), an old ice cream truck and a sinking shipping container. The four soldiers are generally bored, routinely lifting their boom gate for a passing camel, but the cars carrying Palestinians are the reason they are there. Some are annoyed, others fearful, still others stripped of their dignity, but the pretty girl who smiles at Jonathan from a carful of partying teens meets a horrific fate when an empty beer can causes panic. 'Rhino is in the puddle' is radioed to another outpost. It is notable that camels are indigenous to Israel. Rhinos are not.
The third act finds Michael leafing through Jonathan's 'Last Bedtime Story,' a graphic work depicting what we have just seen. But Michael no longer lives in this apartment. As he purposely burned his hand under scalding water in act one, Daphna now scrubs her knuckles raw while preparing a cake commemorating her son's 20th birthday. Daphna lets loose on Michael, noting his weakness and the shame she sees in his eyes. Michael opens up, describing an incident during his own military service which has haunted him. They smoke some pot found in Jonathan's room, unable to suppress giggles when their daughter Alma (Shira Haas, "The Zookeeper's Wife") calls them on it. 'You look beautiful together,' she notes before leaving, and indeed they do, shared pain inviting forgiveness.
Director of Photography Giora Bejach ("Lebanon") employs overhead shots which isolate Michael in act one then adds tracking in act two to accentuate farcical boredom. The foxtrot features in all three acts, most comically by a lithe soldier. Ashkenazi, who is like Israel's Steve Carrel in both looks and ability to traverse comedy and drama, is this film's dark heart, a conflicted man who could be a stand in for Israel itself.
Robin gives "Foxtrot" a B-.
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