Foxtrot

 

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A film that challenges critics and their ratings, being of outstanding merit but only for its first third.

 

Foxtrot

  

Back in 2009 Samuel Maoz made his name with Lebanon a damning portrayal of war in which the action took place inside a tank crewed by the leading characters. Now, getting a rather belated release here, we have his 2017 follow-up, Foxtrot, and once again he is both writer and director. Although it has a narrative that proceeds in chronological order, it comprises three distinct sections and the first of these set in Tel Aviv is stunning. If it stood on its own, I would be describing it as a masterpiece in miniature. It shows two Israeli military men arriving at the home of Michael and Dafna Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler) to inform them that their son Jonathan, a soldier, has been killed. What follows is the most intense study of grief that I can recall in any film. Foxtrot has been shot in 'Scope but, with its emphasis on close-ups and the sheer emotional power generated by Ashkenazi in particular, it feels as enclosed as Lebanon: the space is absolutely filled by the sense of grief that we are invited to share.

 

Given this initial mastery, I was taken aback to find the film's other two sections so unsatisfactory. The middle segment shows us soldiers on duty in a remote spot - four of them are in charge of a roadblock on the border and are required to check that Palestinians in passing vehicles are ones above suspicion. Despite a highly dramatic conclusion, this episode is largely a portrait of boredom not without touches of almost absurdist humour, but what disturbs most is the change in presentational tone from what has gone before. One soldier dances a foxtrot to music with no clear source and subsequently we have a scene that plays out to fit part of a Mahler symphony. When it comes to conflicts of style, it is even weirder to find that a short animated sequence is used to lead us back to Tel Aviv for the final third.

 

Since we are again with Michael and Dafna, it might be thought that the power of the early scenes would now be recaptured, but not so. Earlier the grief expressed had dominated so much that, despite the presence of other relatives, little had been established about the history and outlook of the couple. Now for the first time various conflicts and attitudes emerge out of the blue and this at a time when we are distracted by trying to work out how much time has passed since the earlier events shown. Indeed our distraction here is all the greater because in addition we are trying to grasp a major intervening incident, one implied but not adequately explained until the very last shot in the film. All of this makes us feel wrong footed throughout this final section of the film. Consequently my rating for Foxtrot (its title being one that is evoked very heavy-handedly just before the film's end in a moment that can only be regarded as symbolical) has to be a compromise. It might have helped if the narrative had been presented as three distinct short films, each about the same family but presented in contrasted styles. However, that is to surmise. As it is, we have a brilliant piece followed by two others that appear inept when presented as part and parcel of a single work.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray, Etay Axelroad, Shaul Amir, Dekel Adin, Gefen Barkai, Karin Ugowski, Shira Haas, Yehuda Almagor, Arie Tcherner, Itamar Rotschild, Roi Miller, Danny Isserles.

 

Dir Samuel Maoz, Pro Michael Weber, Viola F├╝gen and Eitan Mansuri, Screenplay Samuel Maoz, Ph Giora  Bejach, Pro Des Arad Sawat, Ed Guy Nemesh and Arik Lahav Leibovich, Music Amit Poznansky, Costumes Hila Bargiel.

 

Spiro Films/Pola Pandora/ A.S.A.P. Films/KNM/Bord Cadre Films-Curzon Artificial Eye.
113 mins. Germany/Israel/France/Switzerland. 2017. Rel: 1 March 2019. Cert. 15.