Sundance 2018: Foxtrot, by David Bax
There are so many logos/bumpers/presentation cards at the beginning of Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot that the audience at my screening actually started to chuckle as the various companies and film funds paraded by. Clearly, a lot of people all put a little bit of money into this movie. That may invoke fears of too many cooks spoiling the stew but the truth is actually a beautiful bit of irony. It took a coordinated group effort to get a vision this distinct and singular onto movie screens.
Foxtrot unfolds over three acts, each with a different protagonist. The first takes place on the morning a married couple learn that their son, a soldier, has been killed in the line of duty and focuses on the husband/father, Michael, played by Lior Ashkenazi (Footnote, Norman). The second focuses on their son, Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray), and his duties at the roadside checkpoint in the days leading up to the first act. The final stretch returns to the married couple. An unspecified amount of time has passed—not much but enough for things to have changed—and focuses on the wife/mother, Daphna (Sarah Adler).
Maoz favors widescreen shots that are often so still as to become tableaux. This approach may sound like, but doesn’t truly resemble, either the meticulous irony of Wes Anderson or the surreal absurdity of Roy Andersson—though Maoz’s acerbity has more in common with the latter. He’s still chiefly a dramatist, never letting the narrative or the characters get too far out of sight (except, perhaps, for a brief, animated episode that links the second and third acts). Yet he has an eye and an appreciation for ordinary beauty, as demonstrated in a long, patient shot of rain slowly washing away tire tracks.
Foxtrot is full of images that echo one another, like variations on little melodies that keep popping up in a larger symphony. The dazzle of an emergency flare is repeated in a bit of grease falling into the flames of a grill and burning up and then again in a lone sparkler stabbed into a birthday cake. Once, we see a face distorted by a frosted glass door, then another one distorted by a rainy car window. Bloody hands reappear. Twice, a can rolls slowly across the ground, first humorously and later tragically.
Non-visual elements repeat as well but they are not so beautiful as the images described above. For instance, both in Michael’s interactions with his dog and Jonathan’s interactions with the people whose papers he must approve before allowing them to continue down the road, we see how power mixed with boredom can congeal into cruelty. Maoz’s view of humanity verges on the solipsistic; our true character is completely unknown to everyone but ourselves. Mostly, he finds that this results in egotism as when, in the aftermath of his son’s death, Michael shows no patience for anyone’s grief but his own.
Cynicism is the rule of the day in Foxtrot. The film is eagerly sacrilegious (it repeatedly mocks the euphemism “fallen” used to describe dead soldiers) and, by the end, it curdles into cheap irony. It’s unfortunate but a bad ending is so in keeping with the film’s fatalism, it almost seems like it’s on purpose. One last, bitter joke before the credits roll.