Monday 25 February 2019

Foxtrot (Israel/Switzerland/Germany/France 2017: Dir Samuel Maoz)

Samuel Maoz's belated follow up to his well received debut feature, 2009's Lebanon, is a three act movie about war and loss that plays fast and loose with your expectations of how such subject matter should be treated on film.

In the first section, two Israeli soldiers arrive at the door of Michael and Daphna's apartment, with devastating news about their soldier son Jonathan, who has been killed in combat. The resultant clash of grief and procedure, with the soldiers mechanically going through the motions of dealing with the newly bereaved, is hellish to watch but also attains a dark Coen-esque humour. A sedative is administered to Michael's wife, and the shocked, grieving husband is sent text messages every hour to remind him to drink more water. It's an absurd and tragic opening, compounded by Michael's brother Avigdor quietly organising the words for the funeral eulogy with almost indecent haste, and a visit to the siblings' Alzheimer's ridden German speaking Holocaust surviving mother, who is unable to distinguish Michael from his brother.

A confusion of identities leads to the second act of the film; it transpires that a soldier with the same name as Jonathan was killed, and their son is safe. He's part of a small garrison of soldiers listlessly guarding a checkpoint - named Foxtrot - on the northern border of Israel, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. They're bored out of their minds, their tedium interrupted by exercising their limited authority stopping cars at the crossing barrier, and subjecting the occupants to an ID check (ironically the ID shown is usually false but it's the power of being able to stop drivers that's more important than authenticating their identity). Ultimately this boredom and lack of focus leads to a terrible accident, which gives way to the film's final part, in which Michael, now separated from Daphna and keen to be reunited with his son, endures a final and this time very real tragedy.

Apparently the kernel of the idea for Foxtrot came from an incident in the director's own life where, refusing his daughter money for a cab to get to school, she ran to catch a bus instead. Maoz subsequently heard that the bus she was due to board had been blown up in a terrorist attack, and until he learned that she had in fact missed it, for a short time had to live with the thought that his daughter was dead. Something of the dread and relief of that story inhabits the mood of Foxtrot, but the absurdity of life shines through too: the guards raising the border barrier to let through a camel, and a soldier practising his dance moves using his gun as a partner are just two of the film's more striking images. But the title of the film, after a dance whose moves lead the dancer back to the place where they started, suggests that the overall theme of the film is of characters stuck within their own lives, and as such offers little redemption for its cast.

No comments:

Post a Comment