Monday, February 26, 2018

Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot

Let’s be frank, the so-called BDS movement is anti-Semitic, through and through. Its real goal is to weaken the State of Israel, so that it can be easily toppled by its neighbors, who resent its progressive policies of LGBT rights, equality for women, religious liberty, and environmental protection. Predictably, the Israeli Film Festival in Paris was on the receiving end of BDS calls to boycott, but this year it was also shunned by Israel’s culture minister, for its choice of opening night selection. It is an odd spot for the festival to find itself in and it is all over a scene that probably doesn’t need to be in the film in question. It is so rife with controversy, it will be hard for many to dispassionately consider all aspects of the film (but that is what we are here for) when Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot opens this Friday in New York.

It is clear IDF bereavement officers have done this grim task many times before by the smoothness of their response when Daphna Feldmann collapses at the door. Her husband Michael is conscious, but nearly in clinical shock at the news of their son Jonathan’s death. While his wife sleeps under sedation, he goes about the grim business of making notifications, almost out of misplaced passive aggressive anger. And then there is the first of two closely-related game-changing revelations.

Maoz than rewinds to show what transpired over the last few days at the sleepy check-point Jonathan had been stationed at. Discipline is so slack among these bored young enlisted men, they make the characters of Zero Motivation look like crack commandos. However, something will happen.

In the case of Foxtrot, the tri-part structure actually makes organic sense. However, the scenes with Jonathan in the desert have nothing like the power and intensity of the bookends featuring his grieving parents. Yet, that is where all the controversy lies, because some object to its depiction of a wrongful border shooting that the top brass subsequently cover-up. Granted, Maoz is playing with notions of fate and karma, very much in the tradition of Greek classical tragedy, but there could have been other ways to ironically tempt destiny without handing ammunition to Israel’s haters. In fact, the overlong mid-section is the weakest link, in terms of narrative and drama.

On the other hand, Lior Ashkenazi gives an achingly arresting performance as the anguished Feldmann father. He has a lot of fire and fury in the first act, but the quiet resignation of the third act will be what gets most viewers. There is something acutely poignant about the way he can sit and calmly talk with Sarah Adler’s Daphna Feldmann, even after everything that has transpired between them. They most definitely deliver awards caliber work, with the third act sealing the deal.

Maoz has served up some of the most incisive cinematic critiques of Israel’s militarized mentality, but you would think he would also inclined to criticize the violent ideological extremism they face as well, given the Foxtrot was initially inspired by his family’s tangential brush with terrorism. Apparently, his eldest daughter was in the habit of asking for cab fare when she was running late for high school, so one morning, to make a point, he forced her to take the bus. Tragically, a terrorist blew himself up on the #5 line she should have been on, but he learned twenty-some minutes later, she was late for it as well. Yes, fate plays a role when the threat of terror is a constant presence.

Divorcing Foxtrot from the current political context surrounding it is a tricky proposition, but it is worth doing, to appreciate the visceral power of Ashkenazi and Adler. What matters about this film is the painfully true to life family drama, not the fictionalized events that did not happen in an unsupervised border crossing. Recommended on those terms, Foxtrot opens this Friday (3/2) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.