It’s every parents worst nightmare. You get a knock at the door and there are two people on the other side of it waiting to tell you that son has died. He was in the army, serving his two year mandatory service, but now he is dead. They can’t even tell you how it happened.
This is the premise of Foxtrot, a film inspired by experiences that director Samuel Moaz had as a young tank driver in the Israeli army. It’s important to know that Moaz has had first hand experiences with war as this helps to contextualise the film itself. His experiences in Lebanon, ‘thirty days of hell’ in his own words, mirror that of young soldier Jonathan waiting with his comrades on an outpost on the Israeli border. Back home, his father Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) is dealt the devastating news. Jonathan’s mother Daphna (Sarah Adler), and Michael struggle to find a way to process this information in a film which presents us with miscommunications, the futility of war and a heavy-handed critique of the Israeli government.
Foxtrot feels like two separate films, linked only by the characters familiarity to one another. The middle section has a different style, different pace, has humour where there is none previously and dances to its own tune completely. Of course, this makes sense with the narrative (they are two vastly different worlds and time periods) but they are so wildly different that it feels like that really ought to be two separate films rather than meshing the two concepts together. The first and third segment are slow – almost excruciatingly so – whereas the middle segment is far more interesting to watch. A dramatic end ties everything together, but even still isn’t enough to smooth over how different each segment is.
The middle segment is filled with interesting characters, shifting dynamics, political commentary and is utterly compelling to observe. Likewise, the ensemble cast out in the Israeli desert are fascinating to watch. Though a relatively young team of actors, they portray the bureaucracy and futility of war in a similar vein to Kubrick’s Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket. Yonatan Shiray as Jonathan is the highlight here - he portrays Jonathan’s fears, confusion and guilt perfectly throughout.
This is starkly contrast with the beginning and end of the film which, again, makes sense with the narrative but Foxtrot is so strained at the start, one wonders if it is ever going to get moving. The pacing is slow - Moaz aches over the opening revelation but instead of going through the emotions with Michael, the film feels and disengaged. In addition, the relationship between Daphna and Michael feels unbelievable - at times it seems that they have only just met, much less been married for many years.
Politically speaking, Moaz doesn’t hold back from commenting on the absurdities of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, nor from condemning war in general. In these moments, the film can be read as a biting satire, one which delves head first in questions surrounding the validity of war, morality, banality and young adults utterly incapable of undertaking life changing actions. This level of criticism actually caused the film to be denounced by the Israeli government
On a first watch, Foxtrot seems to be too heavy-handed to have any real appeal. It’s over zealous - subtle is not a word that can be used to describe this film in any way. Foxtrot is so eager to pull the rug out from underneath us, that it doesn't question whether the narrative really needs this. However, the story of war that Moaz is trying to tell his audience is an important one and shouldn’t be overlooked. It may be a film of two very distinct parts, one that works and one that doesn’t, but it’s an important film to have been made nonetheless.