Stars: 4.0 out of 5
Starring Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonaton Shiray and Shira Haas
Written and Directed by Samuel Maoz
Rating: 14A for sexual content, coarse language, violence, and substance use
Runtime: 113 minutes
Note: film is voiced in Hebrew with English subtitles
Playing Friday through Tuesday at Metro Cinema, 8712 109 St. in Edmonton
Tickets are $13 (regular price), $10 (students/seniors) or $8 (children). They can be purchased at the door or through the theatre’s website. More details can be found at www.metrocinema.org.
The foxtrot is a dance where you go forward, then to the side, then back, then to the other side, ending up in exactly the same place where you started. At least, that’s how the character Jonathan Feldman (Yonatan Shiray) describes it in writer/director Samuel Maoz’s movie of the same name. I don’t know all of the history of discontent and war in the Middle East, but as an outsider, I’d say that the comparison of perpetually going in a circle, never making any real progress, seems sadly about right.
Foxtrot (the film now) is a marvelously contemplative look at conflict, where it starts, how it reverberates throughout a person’s life, and just how bizarre it all seems. This sparse drama takes its time to meander through three separate chapters over nearly two hours of screen time but I was riveted throughout, and the scenes remained in my thoughts long after. The film won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, and for good reason.
We start by bearing witness to military officials knocking on the door of the young soldier’s parents, Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna (Sarah Adler) to break the bad news. As Dafna succumbs to the stress by passing out, we are left to focus on Michael who endures for a prolonged period, mostly in silence but occasionally in odd outbursts. Such is the nature of grief and we feel his every frayed nerve despite his appearing to be a well-off, well-composed, with-it kind of guy. He’s a mess and can barely maintain his fragile composure in the face of the overly bureaucratic military system. There’s no humanity, only the rigid formalities of the routine of the soldier’s death. Michael is told that the funeral will be the very next day. He has no responsibilities. The machine has a million well-oiled cogs.
From there, we see Jonathan at work at some ridiculous outpost on a practically unused road where he and three others soldiers guard a gate, making sure that the camels get through but everyone else needs a passport and computerized clearance. They are just about the most bored human beings in the world, until a tragic mistake occurs that changes everything. The final chapter brings us back to his parents as they struggle to make any sense of anything.
In some ways, all of this speaks of the meaninglessness of war. At times, Foxtrot is unnerving in its pace yet coupled with startling moments of absurdist humour. It is a stark and harrowing portrait of the human condition that is surreal in its deep realness featuring breaks from the heart-achingly tender to the heart-breakingly brutal. The characters are beautifully portrayed by all and the plot, skirting controversy with such a tricky subject, seems to look higher above the politics of people to the shared futility of ever trying to move forward touching on the pain of our collective existence. It’s really something to see.
That, plus you get a quick refresher on how to dance the foxtrot, so there’s that.