Written & Directed by Samuel Maoz
The foxtrot is a dance where you’re always coming back to where you started, walking a rectangular path. This cyclical movement can be seen in our contemporary history as the once thought dead specter of fascism has frighteningly reared its head. One of the great foxtrots of our time has been the Israel-Palestine conflict that has been going on since the late 1940s. After decades of war, it seemed in the 1970s that there might be some movement towards positive progress only for the Netanyahu regime to make this strife a key platform. The Israelis still send their young men and women into compulsory service as part of this conflict and, like so many cultures in the West, find a way to justify spilling gallons of their children’s blood for the demands of old men.
Filmmaker Samuel Maoz has grown up amid this civil war and so too have his children. In an interview with Qantara, a German-based Islamic newspaper he tells about his inspiration for this film. Maoz explains how his eldest daughter was chronically late to school that he started paying for her to take a taxi to make sure she got there on time. After the cost became too much, Maoz put his foot down and told her to take the bus.
Twenty minutes later, a report came across the radio that a terrorist had blown himself up on the very bus his daughter was going to take. Thankfully, she had been late for the bus, and her life was spared by a few seconds. Maoz didn’t know this for hours and in the meantime frantically tried contacting her school, effectively left in the dark and forced to assume he’d lost his child. Maoz took this incident and created a story that examines the lack of control, so many Israelis and Palestinians have over the violence that overwhelms their country.
Foxtrot opens with an ambiguous shot of the hood of an Israeli military jeep, an image that movie’s conclusion will return to and reveal greater depth about. The story begins with soldiers arriving at the home of Michael and Daphna Feldman. They are there to tell the couple that their son, Jonathan, was killed in the line of duty. Daphna collapses, and Michael numbs over, disconnecting his mind and going into auto-pilot. While his brother and niece are hysterically crying out, Michael just goes through the motions, most concerned about contacting his daughter, Jonathan’s little sister, so that he can break the news to her.
Eventually, the film steps back and takes us to Jonathan’s location in the middle of nowhere, days before his parents are informed. We follow the young man and three other soldiers as they go through the motions of operating a rickety roadblock, impassively checking the identification of the rare person that actually passes through this region. They live in a modified shipping container that has been dropped into the muddy ground and is slowly sinking.
After we see the redundancy of this routine, we get the sense of the soldiers who can’t see a purpose to what they do. It’s an automatic series of steps, shuffling through the day and making the same motions again and again. After we have been lulled into complacency, the film shakes us with a sudden burst of tragic, unexpected violence. Every person and event slows to a crawl as we’re forced to watch the military swoop in and attempt to patch over a mistake that their directives were inevitably going to bring about.
Foxtrot is a heartbreaking comedy-drama, able to evoke deep pathos but still retain a tone of surreality. At times, the images on the screen caused me to recall the films of Terry Gilliam and the early works of the Coen Brothers. Maoz isn’t interested in presenting a dour, bland didactic lecture on the problems in his home country but knows his work should be injected with passion and emotion, pointing out the absurdity of military life through a disconnect with the workings of reality. The final images of Foxtrot will jolt the viewer, bringing the vignettes the picture is composed of, to a single focal point, a visual reference to the dance in the title, we come back to where we started asking what we’ve gained from all of this.