FOXTROT – Grossly Dark Israeli War and Grief Comedy

Sadly I missed FOXTROT at the Sydney Film Festival but the wonderful people at Sharmill Films came through with the goods and sent me a copy to watch at home. I am so glad I did not miss this marvel of a movie. A somewhat surreal three act journey into grief, war and family. It’s an Israeli film shadowed in controversy with a witty, intelligent and (at times), grossly dark in its comedy, screenplay. It has released to art house cinemas this week on a limited release. The full list of cinemas screening it are listed below. It is rated MA15+ and runs for 113mins.

 

FOXTROT Lior Ashkenazi and Yehuda Almagor image
and Yehuda Almagor

 

BY

FOXTROT SYNOPSIS:

Michael and Dafna are devastated when army officials show up at their home to announce the death of their son Jonathan. Michael becomes increasingly frustrated by overzealous relatives and well-meaning army bureaucrats. While his sedated wife rests, he spirals into a whirlwind of emotions, which rival the surreal and darkly comic military experiences of his son.

TRIVIA:

The announcement of the death of a child in the beginning of the film comes from an incident that happened to director, . Every day, his eldest daughter would wake up late for school, and every day she would then ask him to call a taxi for her, and it started to cost them quite a bit of money. It seemed to Sameul Moaz like it was affecting her education, so one morning he refused to get her a taxi and told her to take a bus like everyone else. Her bus was line 5.

About half an hour after she left, he heard that a terrorist had blown up a line 5 bus, and dozens of people had been killed. He tried to call her, but of course the telecoms service had stopped working because of the sheer volume of calls. So what happened was, with the words of Samuel Maoz, that he “went through the worst hour of his life. It was worse than all his time at war put together.” An hour later, she returned home; she had just missed the bus that exploded.

 

FOXTROT Yonaton Shiray (far right) and his army buddies image
(far right) and his army buddies

 

CLEVER, WITTY, JARRING, HUMOUROUS AND SAD:

FOXTROT is split into three clearly defined acts that are intertwined and will make you laugh, cry and feel pain. Maoz explains it best

“The first sequence should shock and shake, the second should hypnotise, and the third should be moving.”

ACT ONE:

Act One is spent with the parents, Michael and Daphna Feldmann, as they find out their son has been killed in the war. It is heavy and methodically chaotic, a perfect look at grief. Loss of a child is something that will destroy any parent, how can one even comprehend trying to deal with the loss? It is mostly seen through the eyes of Michael as for some bizarre reason the military injects Daphna with a sedative as soon as she learns of the loss and collapses. Do they even do this? That was heavy!

The military is methodical and follows procedures and checklists, a parent dealing with loss is chaotic and in the throws of temporary insanity as the brain cannot process. Seeing these two collide was interesting to watch and the only thing keeping Michael grounded was an hourly alarm reminding him to drink water.

ACT TWO:

Surrealist war. A quiet, in-the-middle-of-nowhere, military checkpoint. The cinematography and visuals reminds of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and is a stark contrast to ACT ONE. It is here we first see the Foxtrot in action. Maoz explains “the foxtrot dance is the dance of a man with his fate. It is the kind of dance where there are many variations, but they all end up at the same starting point.”

ACT TWO takes a little step back in time to see Jonathon, Daphna and Michael’s son in war. This is my favourite act. It is visually sublime, darkly humorous and insanely surreal. These boys, in war, are bored off their brains, what they do to keep them remotely sane is highly entertaining. But this is also the most heavy of the acts, the ending will punch you in the gut.

ACT THREE:

ACT THREE returns to the parents being dealt the worst kind of fate that pays its dedication to the foxtrot dance and the director’s interpretation. You may be a bit confused at the start of this act but its explanation shines and the ending is the most wonderful of endings drowning in black comedic irony.

 

FOXTROT Lior Ashkenazi image
Lior Ashkenazi

 

CONTROVERSIAL:

Winner of the coveted Grand Jury Prize at the Venice International and recipient of eight Ophirs at the 2017 Israeli Film Awards including Best Film, Director and Actor, FOXTROT has garnered widespread praise and was Israel’s submission to the Foreign Language Film Award of the 90th Annual . That being said, the film’s second act deals with a military cover-up and as such it has been condemned by the Israeli military and a lot of its politicians and citizens. A really good article on the matter can be found HERE.

FOXTROT has proven to be a bugbear of Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev, who has repeatedly denounced the film over a controversial scene in which the Israeli military covers up the deaths of a carload of Palestinian teenagers.

Regev, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, has been outspoken on social media about her disgust for the film, which she admits to having never watched in full. After its triumph at Venice, she wrote on Facebook, “When an Israeli film wins an international prize, the heart fills with pride and my natural desire is to strengthen and encourage the Israeli success….This rule has one exception – when the international embrace is the result of self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.”

Maoz, as well as the film’s leading man, Lior Ashkenazi, have been accused of being traitors and anti-government agents in a flurry of online posts following Regev’s denunciations. Maoz says that he has been threatened with acid attacks in posts that listed his private home address, and Ashkenazi’s 5-year-old daughter was even the subject of death threats.

Can someone explain the meaning of fiction to the “Culture” Minister?

 

FOXTROT Yonaton Shiray image
Yonaton Shiray

 

WONDERFUL CASTING:

The casting is just wonderful. Lior Ashkenazi and are the perfect grieving parents. Their stages of grief are perfectly displayed and as chaotic and unstructured as one would imagine. Adler could pass as a double for Marion Cotillard and her delivery is as good but Ashkenazi steals the show with his outbursts and shattering performance. Yonaton Shiray’s performance is much smaller but is entertaining and beautiful to watch, his “act” was by far my favourite.

 

FOXTROT Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler image
Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler

 

IN CONCLUSION:

FOXTROT is a movie I wish more of the world could see. The Right Wing Cultural Minister of Israel needs to chill out. This could be set in any country of the world and represents a surrealist look at a terrible event. The director and actor do not deserve death threats, they deserve piles of awards and praise at a film that perfectly delivers a themed look into grief, tragedy, war and family.

PARTICIPATING CINEMAS

VIC
Cinema Nova
Classic Elsternwick
Palace Como
Palace Brighton Bay
and Palace Balwyn

NSW
Cremorne Orpheum
Dendy Opera Quays
Dendy Newtown
Palace Verona
Avoca Beach Picture Theatre

ACT
Dendy Canberra

TAS
State Cinema Hobart

QLD
Dendy Coorparoo

SA
Palace Nova Eastend

 

 

 

YOUR CRITIC:

 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.