Foxtrot is director Samuel Moaz’s original, surreal black comedy of the paradoxes and contradictions of life in Israel and Palestine on the edge of war.
Dance of Deathby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
No words are needed after an unexpected early-morning knock at the door by uniformed soldiers. Daphne Feldman (Sarah Adler) faints away because she knows it means her son Jonathan Feldman is dead. The soldiers’ practised response is to sedate her into unconsciousness, leaving her husband Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) to deal with his all-consuming grief alone. It’s a day of unremitting anguish that’s hard to watch – but at the end of it comes a twist.
The mid section of Foxtrot shifts without explanation to a young soldier named Jonathan Feldman (Yonaton Shiray), who with three equally bored fellow conscripts is manning a pointless road block in the middle of nowhere. The only traffic they see is a solitary camel making its stately way back and forth, or the occasional car passing through from Palestine with passengers going on business or to an evening out. This wretched checkpoint’s army code name is Foxtrot and in a surreal sequence Jonathan demonstrates the eponymous dance in the middle of the remote dust road – it consists of a series of steps that return the dancer to the same place he started from.
Too young and immature to cope with the significance of their – albeit largely meaningless – roles, the conscripts find their entertainment in gratuitously humiliating the occupants of the cars they stop. Their billet, the only place they have to eat their tinned rations and to sleep, is a listing metal container that’s gradually sinking into the sand. They’re stuck in a kind of Waiting for Godot limbo, a featureless universe where nothing happens and yet life can still play a cruel joke.
And in the third section of the film there’s a shift back to Jonathan Feldman’s parents and there’s one more surreal and circular twist.
Foxtrot, from its camera angles, which occasionally take a godlike or Hitchcockian view from above, to its animation sequence, to its pervading sense of the absurd, is a hugely original black comedy by director/screenwriter Samuel Moaz. Along with the tragic absurdity of everyday life, it reveals the inherited mental scars of Auschwitz that Israeli families still bear, bubbling beneath the surface and ready to erupt. As a social comment on misguided military ambitions and their effect on ordinary people, it’s a kind of thoughtful counterpoint to Moaz’s 2009 Lebanon.
Foxtrot screened at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, the 61st BFI London Film Festival and is released on 14 December 2018 in the UK.