CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Yonaton Shiray, Sarah Adler, Shira Haas

Director: Samuel Maoz

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Shocking, Sudden Violence and Exaggerated Comic Book Nudity

Release Date: March 2, 2018 (Limited)

All life is suffering, at least according to the Judeo-Christian view. There’s a particular strain on the Judeo side of things that goes at least as far back as the Old Testament, specifically the Book of Job, in which humans are pawns in a system of dramatic irony at the hands of a confounding god. The Coen brothers took a deep dive into this mythology with A Serious Man, and now Samuel Maoz’s Israeli film Foxtrot takes it to particularly tragic ends. The result is a striking look at the toll borne by individuals living constantly on the edge of conflict.

Foxtrot begins with Tel Aviv couple Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna Feldmann (Sarah Adler) informed that their soldier son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) has fallen in the line of duty. At first it looks like the film’s focus will be an examination of the effects of shock. Dafna immediately faints and remains unconscious for the first thirty minutes or so. Michael is able to remain awake, but he must rely on an alarm clock to remind him to drink water at regular intervals so as to keep his anxiety in check. It is an awfully clinical approach to take towards any film, and in this case it would seem to be promising a profound slog. But Foxtrot goes more mammoth and less straightforward. It is an emotional rollercoaster, with a force from beyond controlling the dips and the turns. When the focus shifts to what Jonathan is up to, the truth is brought into fuller, clearer focus. The irony comes to the fore, serving up the twin lessons that tragedy is both not as bad as it originally appears and also that it is just as bad as it originally appears.

An affluent middle-class couple dealing with loss is an unfortunately too frequent story present throughout the world. Jonathan’s portion of the story, meanwhile, is particularly resonant in its Israeli setting, but its existential milieu is also a significant aspect of the general human experience. He is assigned to a crossing outpost, and his days are mostly filled with waiting. Occasionally he lifts a crossing gate to let a camel walk through. But that boring setup belies the constant potential for explosiveness.

Foxtrot makes itself felt by interspersing a mostly steady, even-keeled narrative with occasional bursts of tragedy and character revelation. The latter is felt most strongly in an animated section in the form of a comic book drawn by Jonathan that tells his father’s story. The Feldmanns are not a particularly voluble family, which is why this subtextual understanding between father and son (also demonstrated by their shared love of the titular dance) is so appreciated. For a Job-like existence to be bearable, there needs to be love.

Foxtrot is Recommended If You Like: The Book of Job, A Serious Man, Finding bits of humor in the most tragic situations

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Camels