Foxtrot

FOXTROT. Israel, 2017.  Starring Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Jonaton Shiray, Shira Haas, Yehuda, Almagor. Directed by Samuel Maoz. 117 minutes. Rated MA (Strong sexualised imagery).

This is a very moving film. It is also very sombre.

The writer-director, Samuel Maoz, made the award-winning film, Lebanon (2009). It won an award from SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication). Foxtrot screened at the Venice film Festival, 2017, winning the Grand Jury Prize. It also won a prize from SIGNIS.

Foxtrot seems an unusual title for such a serious film. However, there is a telling scene where the central character enters a building and finds elderly couples dancing the foxtrot. He explains and demonstrates the steps. Later, the son will dance a foxtrot on the road at his desert outpost – and the codename for the outpost in fact is Foxtrot. And, again, later, there will be peacemaking and reconciliation in the dancing of the foxtrot.

This is an Israeli film. The screenplay is in three parts, three acts, the approximately 40 minutes long.

 The first takes place over some hours on one day, the military arriving at the door of an apartment with the audience sharing the apprehension of the parents who open the door. The news is that their son, very young, has been killed in the line of duty. The director uses many close-ups, especially of the father, Michael (Lior Ashkenazi in a most impressive performance). The mother collapses. Michael is quiet, quietly panic-stricken, then breaking out in anger and demands. He visits his mother with the news. His brother comes to help. An official comes to explain the protocols for the funeral and the tribute. Then there is other news which will take the audience by surprise.

There is a transition for the second part. The audience is taken out into the desert, the checkpoint on the lonely road, four young men doing their military service there. Nothing much happens. A camel walks by and they lift the barrier, the camel moves through, the barrier is lowered. The young men talk, play computer games, Jonathan, the son from the first part, has a sketchbook. One of the activities is to roll a can from one end of the hut to the other, their speculating that the hut is sinking. There is rain, heavy rain, scenes of watery mud seeping from the road.

As regards activity, a couple is held up, caught humiliatingly in the pouring rain. One of the young men uses techniques of photo identity so that the people can be cleared and move through. Later there is a group of raucous young men and women, though one looks intently at Jonathan. Again the checking, and then something overwhelming happens.

With the third part, the audience goes back to Michael and his wife. There are many close-ups, intense gazing at the face of the characters, feeling their tensions, sense of alienation, exasperation, grief. This part is introduced by an animated segment, bringing Jonathan’s sketches to life, the story of his father, courting his mother, sexuality – and a glimpse of Michael’s mother in hospital, the concentration camp number on her wrist.

As with the other two parts, there is a surprise that the audience could not have anticipated. An explanation that makes sense of the whole story. Tragic sense.

This is a film for an Israeli audience but makes quite an impact beyond Israel. It is a story about a husband and wife, about children and family – and, especially, different ways of coping with death, different ways of living through grief.

Sharmill Films                           Released June 21st.


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