sat 23/03/2019

Foxtrot review – controversial movie dances to an ugly tune | reviews, news & interviews

Foxtrot review – controversial movie dances to an ugly tune

Foxtrot review – controversial movie dances to an ugly tune

Both a bleak drama and a mordant black comedy showing the ruinous effects of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory

Jonathan (Yonathan Shiray) performs the titular dance with his partner, a rifle

Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot uses irony and visual poetry to condemn his nation’s militarism. Twenty months after the movie won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice, it opens in the UK trailing a divisive history. When it first emerged in 2017, it was condemned as un-Israeli by then culture minister Miri Regev. She was subsequently barred from the ceremony for the Ophir awards (the Israeli Oscars), at which Foxtrot won eight prizes, including Best Picture.

The film was designed as a triptych. The first section focuses on the grief of a well-to-do Tel Aviv couple, Michael and Daphna (Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler, pictured below), after military personnel inform them that their young soldier son Jonathan has been killed in action. The second section depicts a few days in the lives of Jonathan (Yonathan Shiray) and his three army comrades at a remote desert roadblock guarding a supply route in the Occupied Territories. The third part revisits Michael, Daphna, and their teenage daughter Alma (Shira Haas) six months after they received news of Jonathan’s death – by which time they have suffered a fresh horror.Lior Asheknazi and Sarah Adler in FoxtrotIt’s impossible to explain what traumatized them again without relaying news received by Michael and Daphna five or six hours after they were first told Jonathan was dead. Foxtrot is one of those films it’s best to know as little as possible about – plot-wise – before seeing it. Suffice to say that Maoz (director of 2009’s visceral, autobiographically mined The Soldier’s Journey/Lebanon) is an expert writer of “reveals,” albeit a slightly manipulative one.

What he most effectively suggests is that no adult implicated in a war situation is necessarily innocent – whether combatants, soldiers detailed to tell parents their children have died, or the parents themselves. Different scenes in which Michael behaves belligerently and Daphna smiles cast them in an unsympathetic light – we harden toward them knowing full well we would likely behave as they did if we were in their shoes.

Reminiscent in some ways of M*A*S*H and Catch-22, Foxtrot excels at showing the tedium and dehumanizing effects of military deployment. Jonathan and his three comrades trudge aimlessly around their desolate outpost, doing whatever they can to relieve the monotony. One buys a plastic robot from a passing toy vendor and sets it marching toward the Checkpoint Charlie (a symbol of futility given the vast arid plain around it). Another tells an anecdote about an ancient family bible, miraculously preserved during the Holocaust, that a desperately randy boy traded for a girlie magazine in 1970. Jonathan is a gifted aspiring comic artist whose sketchbook bursts into animated life at one point. Occasionally these boys humiliate the middle-aged Arab couples who stop at the blockade by making them stand in a downpour, for example. They do much worse – offscreen – to four attractive twentysomethings who pull up, possibly for no other reason than that they’re Arabs having a good time.The cast of FoxtrotA droll sequence at the blockade, which is codenamed Foxtrot, shows Michael’s spontaneously funky interpretation of the eponymous dance, in which he is partnered by his assault weapon. Later on, Michael ruefully demonstrates for Dafna the movement of the foxtrot (though he doesn’t recall its name), which brings the dancer back to the position he or she started in. This is a scathing metaphor not only for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory but also for the misery it endlessly inflicts on the people of both states. There’s a metaphor, too, for national instability: the roomy metal container in which the four soldiers eat and sleep is sinking – one end more quickly than the other – in the mud. Lyrical though this movie is thanks to its twisty overhead tracking shots, corrosive immurement is the abiding theme.

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