By Gabriella Goliger
‘A quiet film about family tragedy.”
“A devastating indictment of a nation.”
“Slander, pure and simple.”
“A terrific work of art.”
These are some of the contradictory phrases people have used to describe the Israeli film “Foxtrot,” which has won widespread praise and prestigious awards, but also condemnation from the Israeli government. Israel’s minister of culture and sport, Miri Regev, has denounced the film for being “in cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.” Israel’s foreign ministry plans to boycott the opening ceremony of the Israeli Film Festival in Paris because “Foxtrot” headlines at the event. But Nechama Rivlin, the wife of Israel’s president, said she liked the film a lot and said that it was “full of compassion.”
Ottawa audiences will be able to make up their own minds when the film shows at the ByTowne Cinema April 13 to 19.
Created by Samuel Maoz, “Foxtrot” uses searing realism, along with brilliant surrealism, in a bold three-part structure, to tell its story.
The movie begins with that fearsome knock at the door that all Israeli parents dread. Soldiers arrive at the Feldmans to deliver the terrible news that their son Jonathan has been killed in the line of duty. Instantly, we are flung into a world of unbearable grief and anger, as well as the practiced efficiency of an army apparatus that knows this script only too well. The emotional intensity in the Feldman apartment builds until, in a bizarre twist, the story delivers another shock.
Part Two jumps from these up-close, highly fraught scenes to another world and mood entirely. We see Jonathan and three other soldiers dealing with the tedium of guard duty at some remote checkpoint in a stark desert landscape. The location is deliberately ambiguous, symbolic more than real. Hardly anything interrupts the dullness and the young soldiers are bored out of their minds. The surrealism intensifies when a soldier performs a stunning modern dance number with his gun. But suddenly the tedium shatters and violence erupts. The third, final section takes us back to Jonathan’s parents in the city, with scenes that convey a sense of collective entrapment and futility.
“Foxtrot” is most definitely an anti-war film, but not one that portrays hero-villain scenarios, offers answers, or even directly says what country or what army this is. The references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are oblique. Nevertheless, the film could be seen, at least in part, as an anguished, hard-hitting commentary on the morale-sapping quagmire of Israel’s occupation. Perhaps that’s why Miri Regev is such a vehement critic – it strikes close to the rightist bone.
In his defence, the film’s writer/director, Samuel Maoz has said: “If I criticize the place I live, I do it because I worry. I do it because I want to protect it. I do it from love.”
“Foxtrot” won the Silver Lion Award at the 2017 Venice Film Festival and swept the Ophir Awards, Israel’s version of the Oscars.