What is Foxtrot?
Structurally, this thing is a marvel: as main character Joseph explains to his captive audience, Foxtrot does the foxtrot. Three steps, and you return to the same place – or, rather, three different acts bookended by the same scene. Many of the film’s surprises come from the way director Samuel Maoz deftly switches tones and styles (not to mention plot) to manoeuvre us around his twisted chess board; simultaneously referencing legendary film moments and crafting something unique.
The first strand presents itself as a devastating tale of grief, with shades of Lynch. When the soldiers arrive at Feldman’s’ door, we already know what’s happened: no words need be spoken. Maoz’s camera revolves above his characters on a Twin Peaks-esque chessboard floor – spinning and tessellating through psychological space. It’s an emotional, powerful piece of work that could have formed the bulk of the movie, but which ends unexpectedly in a masterfully Hitchcockian twist.
This is followed by a trippy, Wes Anderson-esque voyage into a surrealist nightmare of epic proportions. We turn to the Foxtrot unit, a small group of soldiers who guard a road border in a desert-like wilderness. Life’s boring – the biggest threat to safety being a lone camel which traverses the long, barren roads. The checkpoint, with all its vintage equipment, posters, and cultural debris feels like a forgotten relic from the 1950s; and the men who inhabit it, slowly sinking into the mud, have become distanced from temporal reality: a scenario outside of space-time. It’s nigh-on wordless, and possesses an ethereal beauty that begs to be seen on the big screen. This is a film about the pointlessness and banality of war: there’s no Private Ryan gore, no explosions, no glossy Dunkirk CGI – just anticipation and boredom, regret and loss.
The final portion of Foxtrot returns to the Feldman house for a concluding act that’s alternately tragic, hilarious, and surprising in equal measure. For a segment filled with subtle glances and actions rather than on-the-nose dialogue, it’s compelling and believable stuff: a rollercoaster of regret and hope that perfectly encapsulates the film.
But it’s the unifying factors and themes that run through each of these portions that make Foxtrot endlessly exciting. Not just the ‘main’ story, which I have tried to obscure, but the methodically brutal dissection of Israeli life that would seem to be Maoz’s main concern. The constant threat of conflict, combined with the generational baggage of national service – not to mention the spectre of the Holocaust that hangs over everything – gives layered meaning to the images presented onscreen, and paints a portrait of a society in retrograde.
Despite being condemned by the Israeli Minister for Culture, the most surprising (and disappointing) thing I found about Foxtrot was its unwillingness to condemn the Israeli armed forces for anything more than their brutality. It’s a film that goes to great lengths to highlight everything wrong with a damaged culture, yet one that sidesteps the main issue – a problem that Maoz’s previous film, the Golden Lion winning Lebanon, faced criticism for.
In the larger scheme of things, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Foxtrot is an absolute triumph – a hallucinatory triptych of the horrors of war. Maoz has created something unique and horrifically compelling: a film about the banality and pointlessness of death, whilst simultaneously being a rich cultural study of the Israeli people. In its tragically poignant final frames, the enraptured audience didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – one of the finest war films I have ever seen.
Featured image: Variety.