BFI LFF: Foxtrot (2017)

Foxtrot is director Samuel Moaz’s original, surreal black comedy of Israeli life under threat.

Dance of Death

by 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, 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), with three equally bored fellow conscripts manning a pointless road block in the middle of nowhere, where the only traffic is a solitary camel making its stately way back and forth, or the occasional Palestinian car with passengers going on business or to an evening out. The checkpoint’s army code name is Foxtrot and in a surreal sequence Jonathan demonstrates the eponymous dance in the middle of the dust road – it consists of a series of steps that return the dancer to the place he started from.

Too young and immature to cope with the significance of their – albeit largely meaningless – roles, the soldiers 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 sleep, is a listing metal container that’s gradually sinking into the sand. They’re stuck in a kind of Waiting for Godot 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 the parents and 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. 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 and screens at the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 11 and 12 October 2017.

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