Israel’s Minister of Culture, Miri Regev, has been trying desperately to censor Israeli films and filmmakers. Her latest attempt included heavy criticism of Samuel Maoz’s new award-winning film, Foxtrot, which she admits she hasn’t seen! Due to the controversy over the film, I decided to go see it right away, in order to show support for it and also to see it before it is removed from Israeli screens.
Foxtrot is a serious, strangely compelling and fascinating film, well-worth seeing! And just today we heard the news that the film is the winner of the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival!
The film is about bereavement, military service, the humiliation imposed on Palestinians at the checkpoints, the boredom and tension that the young soldiers who man the checkpoints have to deal with, and how the occupation is eating away at our soul. Foxtrot portrays a family tragedy in a society in which tragedy is so randomly distributed among the population, as we see in the opening sequence.
Michael Feldman is an architect (played by Lior Ashkenazi) married to a wonderful wife, with two great kids, a beautiful apartment, and a bit of a chip on his shoulder. His son, Yonatan, is serving in a small unit (whose call name on the military radio is “foxtrot”) somewhere on the moonscape of the West Bank where they are manning a lonely and somewhat surrealistic checkpoint.
The film is filled with metaphors and symbols. For example, the unit’s pre-fab hut is crookedly falling into the mire of the lunar terrain, something that one of the soldiers is measuring every night, desperately worried that one day they will all disappear into the muck. For a long time, a camel has symbolized the majestic yet lumbering and lazy Middle Eastern Arab – here it ultimately brings about our undoing. And the enormous bulldozer, which everyone associates with one of the major tools of the occupation since it is used to destroy Palestinian homes, is the instrument of a major military cover-up of tragic events at a checkpoint. The film also offers a Holocaust allegory which highlights the terrible feelings of survivor's guilt in the second generation (the generation of the soldier's father). And the foxtrot itself -- you dance around and around but always return to the same spot.
This is not an easy film to watch. It is hard-hitting and stylized, using a lot of shots from above, a perspective which makes the viewer stand back and take note. But it is also brilliant in many ways, using the cinematic medium to portray and criticize, something that the filmmaker should be credited for and not censored! In a democratic society, this type of film which looks critically at our contemporary reality is important for raising public awareness and potentially bringing about political change.
Foxtrot is the story of a society that is exhausted from bereavement -- smoking marijuana or simply engaging in denial are some of the major ways of coping, according to this filmmaker. It is a brilliant and provocative film which offers a shocking and effective cinematic criticism of the military establishment.
Samuel Maoz previously directed the prize-winning film, Lebanon, about a tank unit during the early days of the War in Lebanon in 1982 and is based on Maoz's own combat experiences during that war (previously reviewed on this blog).
Foxtrot is available from The Match Factory and Sony.