AFI Film Review: ‘Foxtrot’ Pays Off With a Bold Storytelling Approach

2017 AFI FILM FESTIVAL: Who names a war film after a popular dance move? If that proves anything, it’s that the film “Foxtrot” is far from simple. Told in a three-part structure, spanning from a high rise in Tel Aviv to the desolate desert checkpoints, “Foxtrot” takes a bold approach to narrative storytelling. This seems to have paid off in spades so far. In addition to being Israel’s submission for the Oscars, “Foxtrot” won the Grand Jury Prize Silver Lion when it premiered at the Venice International Film Festival. “Foxtrot” lives up to these honors.

“Foxtrot” is a film that is best experienced blind. Its unique blend of genres and structure hits hardest when the rug is pulled out from under the audience. On the surface level, the film deals with grief and the myriad of additional emotions and consequences that come with it. An upper-class Tel Aviv couple answers the door one day to soldiers informing them of their son’s death. As they deal with the fallout of their son had fallen in the line of duty, the film shifts perspective to the men at the checkpoint where their son was stationed.

If you think you know where this story is headed, suffice it to say you don’t. Writer/director Samuel Maoz plays with genre blending, creating a rich, hilarious and heartbreaking feature. We’ve seen so many war films and films about grief. So many that both subjects have become these stale without some sort of new perspective. Maoz seems more concerned with the consequences of actions, both large and small. Dramatic irony turns out to be the greatest force at work. The same moments that inspire gasps, laughs, and applause also underscores a point. For a country entrenched in war, casualties and grief are imminent.

Much of the strength of the film comes from the impeccably sharp visual storytelling at play. Moaz understands how to open up a small location, having shot his film “Lebanon” solely from inside a tank. This comes quite in handy for the middle section of the film at the checkpoint. The men stay inside a lopsided tank, where they pass the time by rolling a can from one end to the other to illustrate their home is sinking. Long shots gaze over the canned food they must endure or the bubbling mud from underneath.

Even the wide-open landscape of the desert checkpoint, the setting feels claustrophobic. The men wait around all day, entertaining themselves for the dead moments between camels passing through the checkpoint. Few films are able to make boredom so engrossing. When cars arrive at the checkpoint, we get long wordless scenes that oscillate from tense to hilarious. Back at the home of the couple in Tel Aviv, the camera remains still, focused on the characters. However, as feelings consume our characters, the camera spins around, giving into the commotion of the scene.

The actors across the board understand the film they are in and properly assimilate to Moaz’s vision. As the central Feldmann couple, Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler excel at the extended scenes they have to perform. Ashkenazi’s Michael is often characterized as a popular and successful man with hardened edges. He captures this inherent charisma even as his character feels consumed with grief. In contrast, Adler’s Daphna quite literally crumbles under the devastating news. Their different approaches lead to some powerhouse acting that goes in places one wouldn’t expect.

Few films go to the places that “Foxtrot” goes. It’s a wholly unique experience that excels on multiple dramatic and filmmaking levels. It chronicles the legacy and tradition of a family across three generations, dramatizes the futile nature of wartime conflicts and even lands some jaw-dropping punchlines. Films unique like this are few and far between and the result of true visionary direction. This film deserves to be sought out.

“Foxtrot” is distributed by Sony Pictures Classic and opens in limited release on March 2.

GRADE: (★★★★)

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MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |