Foxtrot review Samuel Maoz’s fierce nightmare vision of Israel

The Lebanon directors unflinching household tragedy, set in a surreal Israel where loss and ache are randomly distributed, offers an urgent and witty picture of futility

Foxtrot, by the Israeli film-maker Samuel Maoz, is a compelling household misfortune played out in three acts; a nightmarish triptych of loss, trash and sorrow that is nonetheless arranged with such visionary boldness that it dares us to look away. Maoz won the 2009 Golden Lion here at Venice with Lebanon, his last movie but one, which pundits suspect may count against him this time around. And yet Foxtrot makes a mockery of that kind of received wisdom and formal protocol. The world, it tells us, is random and inept- as likely to kill you by mistake as on purpose. I’m not sure the movie find this as amusing, precisely. But it has the wherewithal and wit to manage the odd hollow laugh.

Jonathan Feldman, a young conscript in the Israeli army, is dead. His mom Davra( Sarah Adler) collapses at the news and is immediately sedated as she lies on the floor by the door. His father Michael( Lior Ashkenazi) is full of cold ferocity. The military helpfully texts him on the hour telling him to drink a glass of water for the shock, whether he’s feeling thirsty or not. Then they pop back to the house to say they’ve made a gaffe. A Jonathan Feldman has died; simply not his Jonathan Feldman. “My son was dead for five hours,” he fumes. If anything, he’s more furious than before.

Part two jumpings without warning from the Feldmans’ oppressive apartment to the blighted northern border; from intensive close-ups to wide shots of a lunar scenery that could double for limbo. Four young soldiers are manning the roadblock and one of the quartet is none other than Jonathan Feldman( Yonatan Sharay ). But Maoz’s terrain is so cockeyed and surreal, it’s hard to get your bearings. Wait, is this our Jonathan Feldman, blithely unaware of the bureaucratic snafu that briefly listed him as dead? Or is it the other Jonathan Feldman, which would make this section a horrible flashback leading up to his death? Maoz isn’t the sort to provide a helpful explainer.” Everything you see here ,” one soldier says, shrugging.” It’s all an illusion .”

These children are bored and restless; they have very little to do. At intervals they raise the gate to allow a lone camel to pass by on the road and this is as it should be; the camel means no harm. But woe betide any pack of Arab revellers who drive up drunk and allow their belongings to roll out of the car. Then the soldiers are liable to get jumpy. They risk shooting first and asking questions later.

The film’s third segment lands us back in the city. It details the management of sorrow and implicitly shows how Israel’s collective hurt and rage are passed down in the bloodline, trapping its citizens in a ghastly holding pattern until they collapse from sheer exhaustion and the futility of it all. It is a fierce, urgent, unflinching image. Tellingly, the young soldiers’ trailer is revealed to be listing. Every day they roll a can of potted meat from one aim to the next, day exactly how long it takes to complete the journey. Maoz’s message is plain. This world is off-balance- and every day it gets worse.

Foxtrot screened at the Venice film festival.

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