The Lebanon director’s unflinching family tragedy, set in a surreal Israel where loss and pain are randomly distributed, offers an urgent and witty picture of futility
Foxtrot, by the Israeli film-maker Samuel Maoz, is a compelling family tragedy played out in three acts; a nightmarish triptych of loss, waste and grief 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 film 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 film sees this as amusing, exactly. 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 mother 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 fury. 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 blunder. A Jonathan Feldman has died; just not his Jonathan Feldman. “My son was dead for five hours,” he fumes. If anything, he’s more furious than before.