Foxtrot is a drama of three parts, as a distraught Israeli family are informed their son has been killed in action and it begins a tragic set of consequences that will strike at the heart of the family.
As the film begins with the sudden arrival of Israeli soldiers, it’s immediately apparent to Daphna that her son, Jonathan has died, and she collapses and his father, Michael, freezes in shock. As Daphna is sedated due to shock, Michael begins the process of informing family members and daughters of the tragedy that’s befallen them. Michael goes through the motions, gliding quietly between rooms and speaking with his brother and a military liaison who explains the military protocol for the funeral.
As he looks through Jonathan’s bedroom, his anger and anxiety are exposed, and he locks himself in the bathroom, switching on the tap and scalding the skin on his hand. The skin blusters and reddens as the hot water continues to run over the grieving fathers hand. Michael’s grief is exposed on his skin, but could this self-inflicted torture betray a deeper anxiety. You would expect the movie to go in a straight line from there, but the movie goes in unexpected directions that surprise the family and audience.
For the second act, we move to the desert and a remote checkpoint, where four young soldiers spend their days checking the identification cards of Palestinians travelling through this stretch of desolate road. They spend their time largely waiting around, in a malaise just waiting for something to happen to awake them from their mission’s tedium slumber. They spend their downtime playing games in a shipping container that is sinking into the sand. It is impossible not to laugh at the absurdity of their mission and living conditions. The two acts could not be any more different and it would be a disservice to the film to explain the connections between the two and how it leads into the third act.
Writer and director, Samuel Maoz can weave acts with different pacing and sorrow with black comedy with a confident ease. Maoz has an eye for the contradictions and absurdities within the family and Israeli society. Each act and revelation lead into the other as the movie continues to unfold, and as characters at home and the outpost try to find some peace or pleasure in the sharing of stories, there’s the looming sense that sorrow or another tragedy awaits. Following a devastating shooting at the checkpoint, a sergeant descends on the sinking compound and tells them, “shit happens”, which sums up the way the tragedies unfold in the movie.
Maoz shows his strength as a director by making the best of two separate locations, a modern apartment and a checkpoint in the desert. The use of the camera in the apartment when they find out their son is dead is remarkable; it moves up and hovers above Michael and follows him down the hall, as if a spirit has ascended and is in the presence of the family. In one of the highlights of the movie, we learn the title comes from a dance routine and a soldier acts out the moves with a gun in hand in the middle of a desert highway.
Foxtrot is one of the most rewarding movies of the year. The tragedy that unfolds throughout the film is filled with sharp comedy and biting sorrow. The family anecdotes spread across two generations paint the picture of personal and historical changes that have touched the family since the Holocaust and will define their lives for decades to come. The past isn’t dead – it isn’t even passed.