Foxtrot (2017) ****

February 24th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Samuel Maoz |Drama | Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland / 113’ | cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray

A grieving father experiences the absurd circumstances around the death of his son, in this latest critical reflection on military culture from Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz (Lebanon). Foxtrot is a story of bereavement and denial of guilt, played against the background of a middle-class Jewish family in Tel-Aviv.
Michael Feldman (Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafne (Adler) live in a spacious, expensively decorated apartment in the midst of the capital. When they learn of the death of their soldier son Jonathan (Shiray), Dafne faints, whilst her husband is cold and aggressive, even kicking the family dog, who wants to console him. When it later transpires that Jonathan is alive after all, Michael still behaves like a psychotic, showing no relief that his son is coming home. He insults his wife, daughter, brother and army officers, and insists on seeing his son again. With the help of a general, Jonathan is whisked away from a road block where he and three others soldiers has just shot four innocent Palestinians in their car; the young soldiers mistaking an empty beer can for a grenade.
The general who orders Jonathan’s release is also in charge of the “cleaning-up” operation: the Palestinian car is literally buried by a bulldozer: Jonathan’s final sketch, which ends up on the wall of his parent’s apartment, shows the operation. Later his mother will interpret the drawing as herself (the car) being swept away by her bulldozing husband. Which, in a way is true, since Michael is hiding a terrible secret from his family: when he was an officer in the army, he was guilty of causing the death of many of his men, causing him to remain emotionally detached from his family, and letting his frustration out on Max, the dog, who suffers from internal bleeding from his master’s frequent kickimg. But Michael is not able or willing to come clean – only a late and tragic twist will allow him him to confess his guilty secret to his wife.
The Feldman’s are representative of many Israeli families in a country at war for nearly 70 years. “This is war, and shit happens in war” says the general to the soldiers after the incident. Moaz captures the absurdity of this permanent conflict in amusing scenes at the roadblock, mixing phantasy with reality, and contrasting the hell of war, with the Feldman’s  sombre family dwelling: both existing in a parallel universe that has seemingly nothing in common. But it is the denial of emotional connection to those at home that forces Israeli soldiers to keep on killing and being killed. This schizophrenic situation has gone on for so long that it is seen as the new normal. Foxtrot is a passionate appeal to a whole country, to put an end to the situation. Samuel Maoz’s debut feature, Lebanon (which won the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival), was set during the 1982 Lebanon War, and shot almost entirely inside of a tank. Foxtrot, his second feature, steps away from that fevered claustrophobia to tell another maddening story of war and conflict, but this one on a much broader canvas. AS

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