TIFF 2017 Review: Moaz’s Grief-Ridden FOXTROT Dances To Its Own Tune

The filmmaker behind LEBANON crafts a film for the ages.

Many films benefit by knowing as little as possible going in, and while Foxtrot isn’t some mystery or puzzle piece, the less you know narratively the more bowled away you’ll be by what takes place. This should suffice – the work is immaculate, world-class cinema crafted by one of the great directors of our time engaging in deep, and profound ideas with a ferocity that’s unmatched. If you have to read the Wiki page to see the plot beforehand then that’s on you.

For those who haven’t seen Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon you really should – it’s an equally provocative, intimate, surreal work that drew upon the director’s own experiences in the Israeli army. With Foxtrot he cranks up both the emotions and the surrealism to another level, finding in the smallest things – a rolling can, the decoration of a cake, the cover of a nudie magazine – moments of near Talmudic profundity.

The film tackles grief in a way so raw that it almost burns, with wrenching moments of both quiet and rage that simply astound. Lior Ashkenazi’s take as the father is a thing to behold, a mammoth performance of impeccable substance. Sarah Adler’s also no slouch with a more thankless role, while the young soldiers in the film’s middle portion beautifully convey the drudgery of unending conflict.

This film is not only a testament to the caliber of works coming from Israel, it’s equally a slap in the face to those on both left and right that wish to make simple the political views of this disparate country. Foxtrot is a beautifully subtle look at a truly universal story, yet it’s highly specific and local in what gives it narrative power. Neither an indictment nor a screed, the film nonetheless shows the quiet indignities from living within a bubble of conflict, whether it be rain ruining a dress or the more overt metaphor of one’s home slowly sinking into the muck.

With beautiful imagery by Giora Bejach and impressive work by the editing team, Foxtrot like few other war films quietly manages to do more than many of its more kinetic, explosive counterparts. As per the title, this is a dance where whatever you do, you come back to the same place, showing the grinding incessancy of quotidian conflict, where no matter the castle one builds around themselves death can still find a way to affect, with swirling clusters of birds speaking to this portent.

This is a film that, like portions of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory or even Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, is fundamentally about the effects of war rather than simply the vagaries and excitement of combat. This is a film that should feel too claustrophobic or theatrical, yet thanks to Maoz’s superb attenuation of tone and the remarkable performances he draws from his cast it all gels together spectacularly.