The most significant developments in Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot are predicated on mistakes. A man becomes undead. A soldier overreacts. An overcorrection on a desolate road kills a passenger. Oh, and there’s a lot of death and talk about death, too.
When the film opens, Daphna and Michael Feldman (Sarah Adler and Lior Ashkenazi) are informed by officers from the Israeli army that their son, Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) was killed in the line of duty. Daphna faints and is shot with a sedative; Michael, who really needs the sedative, is shocked into silence that soon turns into anger. (You would, too, if strangers kept sticking a glass of water in your face.) He stifles his sobs, kicks the dog—which is impossible to forgive him for—and scalds himself. All better choices, he seems to think, than letting his grief show. Later in the day, different officers stop by with news that is nearly as traumatic as the army’s first announcement.
These opening minutes are defined by a stillness that will come to dominate each of the film’s three acts. The second act closes Daphna and Michael’s chapter and moves on to Jonathan’s, showing him with a few other soldiers guarding a supply-road outpost. This portion of the film is often funny and surreal, from a guard raising the road’s gate to let a camel pass by to another demonstrating to his colleague how to do the foxtrot and then really busting a move when music begins to play. It’s hard to know what to make of these scenes—aside from a fatal and stunning instance of misjudgment, it’s mostly of boys being boys—but they’re never not watchable.
The third act swings back to Daphna and Michael at sometime in the future. It suggests that they’re not together anymore—and some long-buried secrets from each see the light of day, too. Still, Maoz injects some life at the beginning in the form of animating the notebook that Jonathan kept. It’s a touching bit that links the kid to his father, though it leaves Michael with tears in his eyes.
Ashkenazi hardly speaks at the bookends of this film, and with so very little dialogue, he’s the standout here, largely communicating with extremely subtle, fleeting expressions that you’ll miss if you look away. (He even apologizes to the dog with a barely there nod.) But Adler holds her own.
Maoz, whose last film was 2009’s Lebanon, doesn’t always keep things clear, and you’ll find yourself wondering what’s happening on more than one occasion. And on a whole, the film is a little too still. In that way, however, Foxtrot resembles a dream, and one that carries you along with it. The themes—grief, guilt, regret—are hard to miss, and the final shot is a devastating gut punch that explains some question marks that come before it. Overall, it’s not necessary to have every moment defined. You’ll still be captivated.
Foxtrot opens Friday at Landmark Bethesda Row and Angelika Mosaic.