Do you believe in fate? Living life day to day, it can be hard to see deliberate forces at play, but when life-changing events are involved, it's often challenging to put them down to pure coincidence. Winner of the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, 'Foxtrot' toys with this idea; Israeli writer and director Samuel Maoz ('Lebanon') describes the film as "a dance of a man with his fate." Yet 'Foxtrot' is about so much more: lives wasted, moments of hope in despair, and the fragility of family.
Michael (Lior Ashkenazi, 'Entebbe') and Dafna (Sarah Adler, 'The Cakemaker', 'Jellyfish') receive unwelcome visitors to their modest apartment: soldiers who are there to inform them that their son Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray, 'A Tale of Love and Darkness') has "fallen in the line of duty". Inconsolable, Dafna is sedated by the officers, and Michael must come to terms with the news on his own and stay strong for family and friends.
From the very first frame, you're thrown into a state of absolute devastation. Maoz thrusts you into an immediately intimate and extraordinarily personal situation. With the lens fixed firmly on Michael, we watch his pain bubbling under the surface as he tries to stay calm as he's forced to organise his son's funeral, until his anxiety grows to a point where he can no longer contain it.
But... that's just the first quarter of the film. Not even half an hour in, the story will send you on a gut-wrenching ride that throws every feeling, every sentiment that you previously had askew. It returns you to reassuring territory as the story changes tact, and puts you at ease - before returning you to that same state of dread for the film's final act.
There's a sense of careful contemplation throughout the film, through some spectacular cinematic devices. 'Foxtrot' is beautifully shot by DoP Giora Bejach ('Big Bad Wolves', 'Lebanon'), with a heavy emphasis on muted colours, yet used with such potent power. Camera movements are mechanical and slow, all extremely deliberate, and there's a repeated use of high-angle shots to reveal unique perspectives. Symmetry and disproportion are used to enforce and reinforce the uneasiness of the situation - a similar effect further embellished by the almost non-existent score, ensuring that when it is present, it's entirely on point.
Not even half an hour in, the story will send you on a gut-wrenching ride that throws every feeling, every sentiment that you previously had askew.
It's with great fortune that the performances are entirely in line with this unique style. Michael's character traits are brought to the surface towards the end of the film, and Ashkenazi does a superb job in setting these up for us early on. Adler is a beautiful accompaniment as his wife - a role which I thought would be a stereotypical play on the grief-stricken mother, but turns into something much more complex. She's fixating. And of what we see of Shiray, it's such an honest and truthful performance that it has the capacity to change everything you feel in an instant.
'Foxtrot' is emotionally tumultuous, and will leave you feeling battered. Without doubt, Maoz has crafted this film as a precise message; he explains, "The film has a shot where you see a screen of a laptop with a notice of mourning and next to it a bowl of oranges. This frame is the story of my country in four words - oranges and dead soldiers." There isn't an ounce of predicability about this story; you will constantly be left wondering where it's headed, as it moves from tragedy to humour and back again in the blink of an eye. 'Foxtrot' dances to its own beat, with a rhythm that will resonate deep within your soul.