Foxtrot is a powerful film that represents the best of global film-making.
Directed by: Samuel Maoz/2017
U.S. Release Date: April 6, 2018
The foxtrot is a dance many will know where you step forward, go to the left, go backwards, and promenade, usually making a succinct closed circuit of movement. This is a dance that features prominently in the film of the same name, Foxtrot. Not only will you see the dance in the film through the observations of the main protagonist as he watches elderly people at a nursing home, or through the experiences of his son’s military unit who has one member doing the dance with his gun in tow to break up the monotony, but it is also the basis for the entire structure of the film.
Foxtrot is masterfully directed by Israeli director Samuel Maoz, and he is able to grab you from the opening scene where 3 young, Israeli soldiers knock on the door of Mr. and Mrs. Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler) to give the announcement that their son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) has been killed while serving in the Israeli army. Mrs. Daphna Feldmann immediately faints and the film shifts to an observational perspective of Michael Feldmann not reacting to his wife’s collapse, instead being frozen by the news as he stares at the soldiers who are administering a medication to his wife and hauling her off to her bedroom to rest.
Samuel Maoz has stated that he wanted a three-part episodic film whereby the first part would shock and shake the viewer, with the second part being employed in hypnotizing them, with a final episode that is moving and emotional. For the most part, Foxtrot succeeds in this aim.
One unique aspect of the film is that it tackles the difficult subject of how a man is supposed to react to tragedy in light of gender norms in Western society, and particularly, in the middle East, which is the setting of the film, in modern day Israel. The Israeli army chaplain who is meant to go over the military funeral arrangements even makes mention that Daphne will have a harder time at certain spots of the funeral ceremony, but that Michael would be able to get through it since he is a man. What the film depicts, however, is that Michael is not dealing with it any better than Daphne, who is still sleeping away. If anything, Micheal is worse off, as he fights against societal expectation, and his own, that a man can suppress his emotions. Instead, we see him engaging in very self-destructive behaviors, as well as directing that vitriol towards their family dog.
Soon we are feeling what Michael is feeling, and as his rage and emotion is escalating, the film lets us know that a mistake has been made. As Daphne and Michael’s brother Avigdor (Yehuda Almagor) breathe a collective sigh of relief, Michael’s emotions continue to escalate as he demands his son to be able to come home immediately from his assignment so that they can hold him and make sure he truly is alright. This begins the 2nd act of the film that is meant to hypnotize.
To induce this hypnosis, Samuel Maoz takes us through the monotonous daily grind of 4 soldiers who operate a checkpoint on a remote road. We march out of their container, through the mud, to assume positions on arm-gate that brings traffic to a stop equipped with a bright search light. We see the unassuming bench chair where one soldier waits, as well as the old, broken down van across from it all where a computer operator runs the IDs of the various travelers that are stopped to see if they are cleared to pass through. Like the soldiers, we are almost lulled into passivity of the monotony of their day-to-day duties and routines. What keeps us on edge, however, is wondering whether we are watching a simultaneous event where Jonathan is very much alive, or are we watching the event that led to the mistake of declaring him dead?
By the time we get to the third act, you are startled to find yourself back in Michael and Daphne’s Tel Aviv apartment where much has changed since we last left them. It is this third act that solidifies the entire story, bringing with it the desired emotional connection we need, as this family is back mourning a loss, along with their daughter Alma (Shira Haas). In this way, much like the foxtrot dance, we find ourselves back to the beginning, where we started, ready to begin the pattern again.
Effectively following the structure of the dance, Foxtrot (the film) is able to look at the bigger questions of life and death and how we walk a razor thin wire between the two. Accepted gender differences in how we process grief, or how we are expected to, as well as the baggage we carry through life are all explored. While Israel effectively killed Foxtrot from being their official entry for 2018’s Best Foreign Language film category at the Academy Awards, due to them believing it painted their military in a negative light, Foxtrot nonetheless still shines, and is a powerful film that represents the best of global film-making.