Every Israeli film I’ve ever seen has been good. Granted, they pick their best movie every year and send it abroad, but I’ve vibed with the Israeli filmmakers whose films made it over here. So no pressure, but add Foxtrot to my growing list of Israeli favorites which may be in the double digits after a decade or so of world cinema.
The Feldmans, Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna (Sarah Adler), receive the news every parent dreads. Their son, Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray), has been killed in military service. They go through a whirlwind of grief having to make preparations and notify extended family. A flashback shows Jonathan’s service leading up to the events, which ranges from whimsical time wasting to harrowing violence.
I have never been to Israel and even to the most woke American, the idea of day to day armed guards and checkpoints seems more intense than the comfort U.S. citizens take for granted. Not that the U.S. isn’t tense but I respect people on either side who can feel any kind of normalcy with armed guards around. People who’ve lived in or visited Israel have told me me that living in Israel isn’t as tense as I think it must be but writer/director Samuel Maoz begs to differ. Each segment of Foxtrot shows just how easily life can be upheaved in ways that are unique to Israel, and select other countries in the region.
The brilliance of Foxtrot is that the upheavals are never exactly what you expect. Like, from my distance in the States, I’m worried about bombs going off or shooting breaking out. Maoz challenges your assumptions. It’s never exactly what you expect, but it’s no less tragic for being surprising. At one point a series of Final Destination innocent circumstances lead to tragedy.
The camera traces the Feldman apartment or barracks smoothly. When it stops, it lingers on beautifully composed shots. The sound is intense with crying and screaming pushed to aggressive degrees, and other mundane sounds jarring at this decibel. An act of animal cruelty is shocking and it’s only conveyed via sound, not on screen.
I’m up for a story of coping with grief in any circumstance, but Foxtrot gives grief an added complexity. It’s not just grieving a loss that’s out of your control, it’s a grief created by circumstances established long ago, but that can’t seem to be changed no matter how many people are suffering. It’s poignant drama, but I also hope puts a face on a struggle that Americans take for granted.
Foxtrot’s qualifying run begins December 8 at the Laemmle Royal Theater in Los Angeles. Check local listings for showings in your area, and LA/NY release on March 2, 2018.