Foxtrot dances to existential angst in Israel


FOXTROT (Samuel Maoz). 113 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 16). See listing. Rating: NNNN

How many metaphors can a movie manage before it becomes a bit much? In the case of Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot, set in Israel, the answer is: a lot.

Start with the title, which refers to a dance with four steps that bring you right back to the place where you started and is also a reference to Israel and Palestine’s unending wars. Then there are the various levels of shame experienced by its characters – all based on situations that are truly shameful, but which plainly resonate with the shame of the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians.

Move on to a tin shack where four Israeli soldiers bunk while working a checkpoint. The tin shack is slowly sinking into the ground.

You get the picture. Maoz packs a barrel of ideas into the story about a family coping with grief. The pic is divided into three parts. In the first, Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Daphna (Sarah Adler) Feldmann get word that their son, Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray), a soldier in Israel’s army, has been killed. The news devastates the couple – whose relationship is plainly complicated – until they learn that there’s been a mistake and Jonathan is alive.

The story moves to a remote checkpoint near the northern border that Jonathan guards alongside three other soldiers. The tension is thick as they check IDs, lift the gate, check IDs, lift the gate. In the third act, the film returns to the Michael and Daphna, whose relationship has taken a nosedive. 

Maoz constructs the film as an elaborate puzzle with pieces that come together in the end. But its power emerges from the terrific performances, especially by Ashkenazi as a tortured soul who seems to trust no one.

And the filmmaking itself is expert. Thanks to cinematographer Giora Bejach, Maoz’s previous collaborator on Lebanon, every shot is carefully composed for maximum impact: the Feldmanns’ apartment is mined for its geometric designs, the soldiers at the checkpoint slog through muck that looks strangely tinged with blood. And the sound is effective, with each thunk of a door or can hitting the road magnifying the characters’ agitated states.

All the while Maoz and his metaphors emphasize the pointlessness of war and its impact on victims and perpetrators. It’s a movie that stays with you long after the credits roll.



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