Grief hits home in Israel

Yonatan Shiray stars as Israeli soldier Jonathan Feldmann in Foxtrot.

FILM REVIEW by Don Perlgut – The Israeli film Foxtrot attempts to respond to the country’s continuing cycle of war and conflict, with writer-director Samuel Maoz offering a metaphor for Israeli security and life.

The action fits neatly into a classic three-act structure, opening with the arrival of soldiers to the trendy flat of architect Michael Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi, who starred in Footnote and Norman) and Dafna Feldmann (Sarah Adler, who appeared in Jellyfish).

The soldiers deliver the agonising news that the Feldmanns’ son Jonathan has been killed serving at a checkpoint in northern Israel. What follows is a painful filmic study of extreme grief and anguish.

Dafna faints, but the soldiers have come prepared with drugs they administer, and put her to bed. Michael is struck dumb, wordless and barely moving.

Michael and his brother Avigdor (Yehuda Almagor) are both irritated by the presence of an army rabbi – they are atheists – who tells Michael not to carry the coffin at the funeral because he will need to support his wife.

Michael, the son of a German Holocaust survivor who has dementia, is pursued by demons from his own army service, and is anything but the strong silent type he initially appears to be.

The second act moves to an isolated army checkpoint where four soldiers – including son Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray, who played the teenage Amos Oz in A Tale of Love and Darkness) – listlessly pass the time, checking the papers of the occasional passing car, working out of a leaking water tower and sleeping in a sinking shipping container.

This chapter presents as a classic absurdist and surreal black comedy tinged with both melancholy and tragedy, typified by the periodic arrival of a lone camel galloping along the road.

The final third of the film returns to the Feldmann apartment, where Michael and Dafna’s marriage appears to be breaking down. In Virginia Woolf style, we watch them slowly reveal the anger, stress and blame in their relationship – a true tour de force of acting.

There is a devastating revelation (no spoilers) towards the end of the first act that resets the film’s tone, but does nothing to erase its pervading unease.

Foxtrot is uncomfortable to watch, and many – particularly those who have lost loved ones in conflicts – are likely to find the scenes of anguish and grief extremely painful.

Foxtrot is not a film to love, but one to admire, for its filmic artistry, formalism and strong performances, and the control that Maoz exerts over every frame.

The production design is simple but effective, and inclusions such as animations are evocative and powerful.

Foxtrot won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and eight Israeli Ophir film awards, including best picture, director, actor and cinematography.

Foxtrot is currently in cinemas.