An unforgettable day in the life of Lebanese writer/director Samuel Maoz was the inspiration for his movie Foxtrot.
Maoz had refused to give his daughter, who was running late for school, the money to take a cab, telling her to take the bus. Twenty minutes later, he learned the bus she would be on was hit by a terrorist attack. Fortuitously, she had missed the bus, but for a terrifying window of time, he thought his daughter had died. It was the concept of fate and loss that he took out of the incident and brought to this film.
The movie is told in three connected stories. In Israel, it is mandatory at the age of 18 for adult men and women to serve in the military. The dread of any parent with a child in the service is to open the door to two soldiers standing there. Nothing is said, but Dafna knows immediately the worst has happened, her son Jonathan has been killed.
As she screams and falls to her knees in despair, the soldiers, way too familiar with this routine, sedate her. In the next room, in their upper middle-class apartment in Tel Aviv, Michael, the boy’s father, sits stunned, staring into space. Their perfectly ordered world is upended in grief. Michael falls apart, spiralling into a whirlwind of anger and anguish, but then, a piece of unexpected news.
The second act jumps to a remote desert, checkpoint Foxtrot, where their son Jonathan serves side by side with three other soldiers who fight the monotony of a gate that’s raised more often for wandering camels than anything else.
It is an unpopulated area bisected by a single, lonely road that stretches on forever, seems to go nowhere, and is little travelled. When the very occasional Palestinian carload does come to the checkpoint, the guards subject them to prejudice and humiliation and abuse their authority. But mostly, the soldiers, who are really still boys, combat the overwhelming boredom by entertaining themselves in cute and amusing ways, providing us some relief from the grief. Then, out of nowhere, violence erupts.
The final act takes us back to Tel Aviv and Dafna and Michael, months later, as Maoz digs deeper into the themes of loss and fate, how one’s whole life can be so altered by a random unintentional mistake.
Foxtrot won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and was Israel’s submission to the Academy Awards, despite condemnation by the Israeli government.
It’s a powerful statement about the unintended side effects and futility of living in a constant state of war. Designed to move you with its depiction of senseless tragedy, the movie is not devoid of humour – it goes to the edge of black comedy but not over.
Maoz wrote an excellent screenplay, assembled a very capable cast and the cinematography is striking and memorable. It’s a film to see, discuss and ponder.
Rated 14A and subtitled, Foxtrot plays at the Salmar Classic Saturday May 12 at 5 p.m.