Written and Directed by Samuel Maoz
The release schedules of foreign language films are always all over the place, which is likely why we end up getting Foxtrot, a film released in New York at the end of 2017, in May here in Ohio. I know the business is complicated with distribution rights and then studios deciding when is the best time to release a film for maximum effect (especially monetary effect). Just look at Disney deciding to bump up the release of the new Avengers film to give it an extra week to make money before the next superhero movie comes along to take its place. With foreign language though, the audience is much smaller in terms of those who will actually seek out the type of film that Foxtrot is. Wait, what type of film is Foxtrot? Well, it’s a much more complicated question than the film’s IMDb page would lead you to believe. It’s much more than simply “Drama”.
Dramatic it certainly is, but Israeli writer/director Samuel Maoz injects humor and war throughout the film as well. It opens quite dramatically though, as military officers appear the apartment of a married couple, Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna (Sarah Adler) Feldman, to inform them that their son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) has been killed in action. After mourning the loss, hours later they are informed a mistake has been made, a different Jonthan Feldman was killed. Their son is safe and sound at his remote roadblock outpost, where he and three other soldiers are left to their own entertainment as their barracks begins to sink into the barren landscape.
Foxtrot is a striking experience that washes over you in the most unique ways. It’s incredibly dark in its ability to rattle the audience with soul-crushing moments, while also managing to bring laughter in some lighter, more directly humorous scenarios. This dichotomy keeps the film from being too brooding and depressing and also too light and airy for its serious subject matter. The balance is struck wonderfully by writer/director Samuel Maoz and aided by a wonderful, small ensemble cast. Lior Ashkenazi delivers a gripping, emotional performance in the lead role as Michael, a deeply flawed father who cares for his son deeply. He steals the show and carries the emotional weight of the film along with him. But he is also greatly supplemented by Sarah Adler as his wife and Yonaton Shiray in a smaller role as the son.
As with most films, the story takes place in three acts, each one with its own inner story arc. As the film opens, the camera lingers on the apartment of Michael and Dafna as they are grief stricken. The second act shifts to the military outpost where Jonathan is stationed, and contains the majority of the humorous moments in the film. But Maoz never lets up on the relentless pressure he places on the story, as it bubbles over into frustration, shock, and even horror as the film drips with the aura of a thriller. Even in the lighter moments, there is a sense of dread, as though something horrible is just around the corner. And it often is. But by shifting setting so dramatically, Maoz also delays the revelation at the heart of the film until the end.
The structure of the film is perhaps its greatest achievement. Maoz plays with his timeline, but not too liberally, and manages to infuse his film with such great imagery. The title of the film is for the dance, the Foxtrot, where, as one character explains, you end up right where you started. I’m likely not smart enough to comment or discuss on the political commentary of Foxtrot, apart from it appears to be both an indictment against the cruelty of war and the ineptitude of the Israeli military. Maoz hammers home the point with the subtle use of shapes throughout the film. Squares to correlate to the dance, which traces a square, and circles too, wherein the beginning is the end, just as with the dance. Playing with tone, setting, and structure, Maoz brings everything together into a bleak and rather stirring emotional film. He toes the line beautifully.