Foxtrot dances to a surreal dream

It is better to know next to nothing about "Foxtrot" going in, as this is a film, like a dream, is best experienced and not explained.

Writer-director Samuel Maoz’s (“Lebanon”) excellent film is of course more structured than the average dream, with themes and Greek tragedy twists that are expertly crafted to test the heart, but there is a precise sensation of out-of-body powerlessness and comic absurdity throughout that can only be described as dream-like. 

The story follows Michael Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi) and Daphna Feldmann (Sarah Adler) immediately after they are told their son, Jonathan, a soldier, has died in the line of duty. 

Ti Gong

Lior Ashkenazi (right) in the film “Foxtrot”

Daphna faints at the sight of the military messengers and is taken to her room and sedated. Michael peers down the hallway, stunned and unable to do anything. The officers tell him to drink water every hour, get him a glass and set a recurring alarm on his phone to remind him. They tell him what will happen in the next few days. It is efficient, emotionless and routine, and while this is happening, the camera barely moves from a close-up of Michael’s haunted face.

Family members come by unannounced and uninvited and weep in Michael’s arms. But then his aging mother seems unfazed by the news. 

This whole first section, while beautifully shot, designed and acted, feels a little like a wheel spinning in its repetitiveness. 

Ti Gong

Writer-director Samuel Maoz’s film “Foxtrot” is best experienced and not explained.

Then the film slaps you awake before lulling you back into a trance as it takes you to the remote military outpost where Jonathan (Yonathan Shiray) was stationed and reflects on the last six months of his life.

These scenes begin to take on a surreal quality as Jonathan and his three comrades waste days away on this desert stretch, wonder whether the shipping crate they sleep in is sinking on one end, and occasionally face tense moments checking the IDs of those attempting to cross this terribly arbitrary border. 

There is an intentional artificiality to this setting that feels like a Radiohead video directed by David Lynch. It is darkly funny, haunting and transfixing, even if it doesn’t appear to add up to much other than a detachment of military service.

On one routine stop, the soldiers make a couple get out of a car. The soldiers make the woman dump the contents of her purse onto the dirt road and stand there while they run their ID. It begins to rain, first a little and then a downpour on the woman’s gown. She holds back tears while trying to smile at her husband standing on the other side of the car. Whether this was meant to humiliate her, or perhaps to indicate how alien the soldiers have become, it’s just one of many unforgettable sequences “Foxtrot” offers.

Words here are sparse but purposeful, and one amazing monologue begins to connect all the dots and lend a greater significance to everything as it ties these two generations, Jonathan’s and Michael’s, to the one before it, the one that experienced the Holocaust.

If this is all sounding vague, it’s meant to be. It is better to know next to nothing about “Foxtrot” going in, as this is a film, like a dream, is best experienced and not explained.

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