After premiering in 2017, Foxtrot has taken its time to reach the UK. Samuel Maoz’s second feature has won numerous awards since its debut at Venice and it is easy to see why. Structured as a triptych (although this isn’t apparent until the film suddenly switches location and tone), its striking aesthetics and form force the viewer to confront the gut-wrenching devastation and grief of the central family. Through cinematographer Giora Bejach’s tight framing, dizzying over-head shots and bold, vortex-like artwork, Foxtrot doesn’t encourage so much as demand the audience sink into a profound state of shock and disorientation along with its subjects. Just as you’ve become accustomed to this world, however, Maoz’s screenplay takes you to an entirely alien location.
Set in modern-day Israel, the opening moments see a mother and father (Sarah Adler and Lior Ashkenazi) learn their conscripted son has died in the line of duty. The couple enter a deep state of grief, but they must also contend with the bureaucratic admin of arranging the funeral. Their tightly-concealed apartment feels airless, cut-off from the world of looming skyscrapers outside. Streams of military officials inconsiderately penetrate the family’s space, but the claustrophobic camera slices their uniformed bodies, or renders them disembodied offscreen. It seems like the only thing that might bring the grieving parents back to reality is their son. And then they discover the truth and their grief turns to frenzied rage.
Shortly afterwards, Foxtrot opens on its middle vignette: a desolated roadblock on the northern border. The stifling pressure of the apartment gives way to the surreality and nothingness of a wide-open expanse. The clinical blacks and greys become dusty browns and greens. A group of young soldiers repeat the same tasks every day – lifting the barrier for a camel, playing video games to pass the time, rolling a tin can along the floor to see if their sleeping quarters are sinking further into the mud. They check and process the occasional passing car, but mainly they sit, talk and sometimes dance with their rifles. An impending sense of doom looms large over the naive group, conveyed through voyeuristic wide shots and slow bird’s-eye-view tracking shots of the container. Even the film’s bitter humour cannot avert the imminent catastrophe. Suddenly, in a spectacular sequence, the young men’s lives are thrown into disarray, and the weight of the world comes crashing down around them.
When Foxtrot finally enters its final part of the triptych, the characters’ resignation has an inevitability. Maoz ensures the story is resolved, but the film’s message is not one that can be tied up in a neat bow. Instead, Foxtrot points to the messiness and unpredictability of life, and the traumatic impact of outside forces. Everything repeats, but it is also chaos. The film’s rigorous formal style and captivating production design may attempt to impose some order on the narrative, alike the film’s protagonists, but these are ultimately futile gestures. Fortunately, the creative team’s work is not for nothing. Foxtrot demonstrates the power of filmmaking and its unique ability to allow viewers to endure with characters. Such confident and assured filmmaking allows us to appreciate unforgettable compositions and experience the intense emotions with which they are forever bound.
Foxtrot is released in UK cinemas and on demand on 1st March 2019